Residents worry goats will drive out wildlife

Residents worry goats will drive out wildlife

18 March 2008

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Benicia, USA — Hungry goats can prevent brush fires, but they’re also terrible at making room for deer and other wild animals.

At least, that’s what worries local resident Greg Dominis, who takes issue with the hundreds of goats that have been roaming Benicia’s open spaces since late December – apparently eating at will.

“Goats are very invasive,” Dominis said, adding that deer and smaller animals have vanished since the goats arrived in late December. “They’re pretty brutal to the terrain.”

Benicia Fire Department Deputy Chief Gene Gantt, however, said the goats could be helping the city avoid costly and potentially deadly brush fires. Last year, he said, firefighters battled three large grassfires that cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

“With the winds that come up, we’ve lost fences and we’ve lost homes,” Gantt said. “We’ve had firefighters who’ve been injured. Firebreaks help, but if we lessen the fuel (wild grasses and shrubs), that gives us a better chance of stopping fires.”

Goats are a new strategy, Gantt said. A company called Goats R Us out of Contra Costa County asked the city if it could use Benicia’s open spaces to winter its flock. Gantt said the fire department agreed with the plan because the city gets free weed abatement.

“They were looking for a place to winter their goats and we are getting our vegetation knocked down,” Gantt said of the no-money trade. “It’s a win-win situation.”

However, Dominis, who said he respects the fire department, said he’s also concerned about just how much the goats have nibbled away at the fields near his neighborhood. He said he and his neighbors on Dundee Way would like the city to consider regulating how much freedom the goats have.

“There used to be quite a bit of older kinds of bushes, yucca plants and flowers,” Dominis said of the fields around his home. “It’s not just the deer (that are affected). It’s skunks, opossums, all sorts of things.”

Dominis said deer used to be a common sight near his house. He said fewer have come around this winter, taking away from the neighborhood’s charm.

“Fire suppression is a balancing act,” he said. “There could be more control.”

Gantt said the fire department understands some animals might be displaced by the goats. But he said the herd is doing valuable work.

“If it burns, there’s not going to be any vegetation, and the deer won’t come around anymore,” Gantt said.

The goats only have a few more weeks in Benicia fields, Gantt said. Goats R Us plans to ship them out to other cities who want to hire them to eat away at their flammable hillsides, he said.

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