Goats protect homes from wildfire in Laguna Beach, CA. Photo: Getty
by Rhett Jones
California’s devastating wildfires are now simply a way of life for residents—and things will likely only get worse. Since the president’s solution for combating these climate change-fueled disasters is to threaten to cut FEMA funding for the state, local governments are taking matters into their own hands. The plan: Goat Fund Me.
The tactic of using herds of goats to clear the flammable dry brush in forest areas has become increasingly popular. Now, the town of Nevada City, California, wants to deploy its own goat army to clean up its surrounding areas as soon as possible. Authorities in Nevada City are attempting to quickly subsidize their preventative measures through the power of crowdfunding and catchy branding.
Goat Fund Me, a campaign launched by Nevada City Vice Mayor Reinette Senum, aims to raise $30,000 that will be used to bring in several large herds of hungry goats for the purpose of eating up the wild brush on city land. Though wildfires in California are becoming a year-round problem, the winter season remains the best time for Nevada City to prepare itself. “We can go out and pursue grants but that takes months, and we don’t have months,” Senum told Wired.
Climate change is undoubtedly making the wildfire situation worse through a combination of droughts and fast, hot winds. Wildfires spew tons of carbon into the atmosphere, further accelerating climate change. And the more wildfires that occur, the more money California has to spend fighting them—leaving fewer funds to put toward forest management. It’s a spiraling, unwinnable trajectory. But using goats to clear out brush before a lightning strike can send miles of forest up in smoke is a relatively cheap method. On its Go Fund Me page, Nevada City estimates that “grazing can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per acre depending on the difficulty of the terrain and how much there is to graze.”
Even at those costs, Nevada City isn’t looking to clear out all 450 acres of its city-owned greenbelt at once. It’s working with experts to target the areas that pose the greatest risk. And there’s plenty of risks. Nevada City is located about 80 miles from Paradise, California, where last season’s Camp Fire killed at least 38 people and leveled the majority of homes. That disaster is estimated to have resulted in around $16.5 billion in losses for the region. With those kinds of numbers, $30,000 for some goats really starts to look like a bargain.
Using 200 goats, Nevada City can clear around an acre of its land each day. All that’s needed is some solar-powered electric fencing to corral the goats into a specific area, a herdsman on hand to oversee the grazing, and a herding dog to ward off predators. Organizers try to locate areas that have nearby sources of water, but a water wagon is also used to help the goats wash that brush down.
When the goats are done, humans also have a job to do. Chainsaw-wielding hand-crews come in and take care of the bigger tasks. And as city officials go around town for planning their targeted areas they also use the opportunity for community outreach—educating private property owners on best practices to take care of their own lands.
Crowdfunding is no substitute for the massive funds, mobilization, and planning that can be done on the state and federal level. A wildly popular Go Fund Me campaign has raised almost $20 million to fund Trump’s border wall since it was launched last month. A congressional report from 2017 estimated the wall would cost almost $70 billion to build and $150 million a year to maintain. So yeah, crowdfunding has its limits. On the other hand, that absurd campaign has raised 20 MILLION DOLLARS! Give goats a chance, people.[Go Fund Me, Wired]