MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. (KION) They're baaaaack. Monterey County Public Works brought 600 goats Friday morning to eat their way through any thick vegetation in Jacks Peak Park that could fuel a wildfire.
Coming off last year's wildfire season, the County saw more than 180,000 acres burn in the River, Carmel, and Dolan Fires combined. Monterey and San Benito County now officially declared fire season. The grazing goats are part of the County's efforts to reduce wildfire risk at the park and surrounding areas. It's funded by Cal Fire's $116,789 grant.
But why goats?
"I think the goats are voracious," said John Akeman, the Park Planning Manager at Jacks Peak. "They're vegetarians, so they get in here and they eat practically everything."
For the next 2 to 3 weeks, the goats will be grazing through 40 of almost 900-acres in the county park.
This effort is on one of the County's multiple wildfire prevention tactics. A crew also goes around whacking weeds, mowing meadows, and cutting branches before bringing in the animals to eat up the leftover plants.
Jacks Peaks has one of three Monterey Pine Forests in the world. Animal droppings, dry pine needles, and sap make it susceptible to wildfires. The goats are especially useful in smaller areas and places where poison oak grows, which is unsafe for staff, but perfectly fine for the animals.
"Over the years, there's been a lot of buildup of dead vegetation and invasive plants growing up into the tree canopies, which is considered ladder fuel," said Akeman. "What we're trying to do is be sensitive about vegetation removal so that it doesn't build-up to the point where it could become a risk."
The goats come from Orinda, CA. Monterey County has been contracting with the grazing company called Goats R Us for brush reduction projects in several facilities.
It was started by Egon Oyarzùn who was born and raised in rural parts of Chile, where he helped his father raise oxes. His wife Terri also raised livestock in Northern California and graduated with a master's degree in social welfare at San Francisco State University. Together, they've been raising goats since 1995.
They hire shepherds from South America to take care of the livestock in the fields. The goats are left to roam around freely in a fenced area, supervised by a shepherd and a team of border collies. At night, they’re taken into holding pens to keep them safe.