Nevada City, California’s ‘Goat Fund Me’ to Prevent Fires

The first step is to identify the most prone areas with the help of the fire chief, then reach out to residents there to tell them that there might soon be a special scent in the air. “You’ve got to let neighbors know: For a couple days you might get a smell,” Senum says. “Your dogs might be disturbed because they’re smelling goats and may want to go after them.”

Madeline Toro

To be clear, the goats don’t work alone. They have human handlers and their own muscle in the form of a big white dog. “They’re fiercely protective,” says Brad Fowler, owner of vegetation management company The Goat Works, which is working with the city. “In California we’ve got mountain lions and coyotes and, recently, wolves. The dogs, just by their presence and their bark, discourage predators to go somewhere else.”

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The operation doesn’t simply amount to letting goats loose on a property. “Basically we have a mobile ranch,” Fowler says. “We’re taking a ranch, essentially with all the infrastructure that’s included in that, to every place we go.” The team sets up solar-powered electric fences to keep the goats penned in a particular area. If possible, they hunt down local creeks or ponds, but they may also truck in their own water.

But for the most part, once they’re in place, the goats are self-starters. They’re highly efficient vegetation managers, since they convert a plant’s solar energy into protein and poop, which nourishes the ecosystem, whereas human crews have to cart off what they clear. They’ll eat most plants from the shoulder up, so dead grasses and such. (If you want to really clear grass, sheep are your best bet.) Nevada City has a particular problem with out-of-control blackberry bushes, whose thorns are no problem for the goats. “They’ve got really nimble lips,” says Fowler. “It’s funny to watch them. They’ll hold the branch with their lips and reach in and bite it off with their back teeth.”

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