Goat patrol seen as solution
Blackberries and other invasive species would be no match for these all-star munchers.
July 3. 2012
By Damian Mann
A herd of hungry goats could become foot soldiers in the ongoing war against blackberry bushes along Bear Creek in U.S. Cellular Park.
The Coyote Trails Jefferson Nature Center has proposed to the city of Medford that it test goats for weed control by letting them chomp their way through 7 acres of blackberries and other invasive plants along a 1,500-foot stretch of Bear Creek in the park.
"They eat everything. They will eat the shingles off your house if you let them," said Matthew Krunglevich, district protection planner for the Oregon Department of Forestry.
The nature center sits adjacent to Bear Creek in the middle of the U.S. Cellular Park, which consists primarily of baseball, softball and soccer fields.
If the City Council approves the idea at noon Thursday, Eagle Point goat herder Ern Russell will install a temporary electric fence in the Jefferson Nature Center, then bring in up to 32 goats and a guardian dog.
The City Council would have to change its ordinance to allow goats as a tool in vegetation removal, which is currently forbidden under city law.
Krunglevich said his department endorses the idea of using goats but recommends a follow-up with a light herbicide on the blackberries in the fall.
"That would be a good one-two punch," he said.
He said goats would be far cheaper than heavy chemical treatments, which also would be problematic near the creek. Using fire to control weeds would be difficult so close to an urban area, he said.
Krunglevich said the goats likely would finish their assignment by August at the latest.
City parks and recreation officials have endorsed the idea because it would help eliminate invasive species and open the area up, making it more difficult to set up homeless camps. The nature center will foot the bill; the only cost to the city would be the free food along the creek.
"You provide them with water and stand back," Russell said of his goats.
Goats eat seven to 10 hours a day. At night the goats and the guardian dog, which shoos away predators, would be kept in a quarter-acre pen. Russell said he would visit the goats and dog at least once a day.
He said he has used his goats to eradicate invasive species in other parts of the county but has never worked within city limits.
Half of his herd of about 90 goats is working in Sams Valley, snacking on blackberry bushes, poison hemlock, star thistle and scotch broom.
Molly Kreuzman, grounds and facility manager for the Coyote Trails Jefferson Nature Center, said clearing the blackberry bushes out is just one part of an effort to create a more user-friendly nature center for Medford residents.
She said her nonprofit is operating under a 15-year lease with the city to improve the land, which also includes rehabilitating an old farmhouse on the property.
Coyote Trails teaches young people primitive living skills such as identifying bird species, tracking wildlife and starting fires by rubbing sticks together to create friction.
Once the nature center property is cleared out, it will provide more opportunities for classes and workshops, Kreuzman said.
She said Coyote Trails has undertaken similar projects in Bend and in Ohio.
Kreuzman said another fence will be built around the electric fence to keep unwanted visitors out so the goats don't have any interference while they do their job.
Using tractors in the area is difficult because of the trees, including fruit trees from the former farm. She said the fruit trees will be fenced off to protect them from the goats.
The cost to her organization for the goats still hasn't been fully worked out yet, but Kreuzman said her organization will probably receive a good rate because this is a pilot project in an urban area.
"It won't cost the city anything," she said.