Goats grazing fields is not an unfamiliar sight in Lethbridge. Over the summer, hundreds of these animals could be seen chomping down on invasive weeds in the river bottom. But now, the city is using these grazers for a whole new purpose: preventing fires.
“We’ve had grass fires in the coulees before and we know that they spread quickly when the grass is high,” said Heath Wright, chief fire marshall with Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services.
“By using the goats to chew through this flammable grass and brush, we can really reduce the risk.”
The goat grazing pilot project, which is already underway, was developed with the goal of minimizing the amount of highly flammable brush in undeveloped grassland areas within city limits.
It was made possible by a $20,000 grant from the Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta (FRIAA).
In this project, 250 goats have been placed in grasslands along Scenic Drive South, a location one fire prevention officer said has been identified as a high-risk area in the past.
“In 2017, we had a wildfire management plan conceived for us through a consultant,” said Jeff Marriott, a fire prevention officer with the City of Lethbridge.
“He identified all along Scenic Drive as one of the major sources for grass fires in the coulees.”
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The project has enlisted help from a well-known herd of goats from the Creekside Goat Company.
The company first lent its services to the city last October for the grass control pilot project.
Now, returning to the city for the third time, owner Rob Finck said bringing his goats back in the fall was an obvious choice.
Finck added using goats for fire prevention is already being explored in some parts of the world, but for Alberta, it’s something new, and he’s excited to see it come to fruition.
“Just getting the fire information out there that this can be done is important,” Finck said.
“It’s done in a lot of places but I’ve never heard of it up here. So, the more that we can have a plan and mitigate those plans and work toward implementing it all year, the better. It’s safer for everyone.”
The project is slated to last up to 40 days.
During that time, Finck said the goats are expected to cover more than 12 hectares of land, grazing areas that have been identified as higher risk due to their proximity to residencies and steep topography.
While the goats are at work, residents are asked to keep their pets on a leash in the area.