California Town Launches 'Goat Fund Me' for Fire Prevention

Two hundred goats can clear about an acre per day, according to city officials.

Two hundred goats can clear about an acre per day, according to city officials. Shutterstock

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Officials from Nevada City are crowdfunding the rental of a grazing goat herd to eat flammable plants on city-owned land.

Facing the threat of another fire season, officials in a small town in northern California are turning to a solution that is both modern and retro: harness the power of crowdfunding to call in the goats.

Thus was born “Goat Fund Me,” a fundraising campaign to secure rented herds of goats to munch on fire-prone underbrush on land owned by Nevada City, a 3,100-population town about 60 miles northeast of Sacramento.

The town, surrounded by a patchwork of national forest land and privately held property, owns 450 acres of open space. The fundraiser’s target of $30,000 will pay rental fees for herds of grazing goats to tend to the most vulnerable 30 acres, much of it along the Deer Creek Environs Trail.

“It’s a creek that goes right through the heart of Nevada City, and it’s the No. 1 fire danger in the entire county,” said Reinette Senum, the city’s vice mayor. “There’s tons of camps, and we get afternoon winds that come up, so if there’s ever a fire—and there has been—it’ll go right into the heart of our town.”

Grazing herds of goats lessen that risk by eating fire-prone underbrush, mostly blackberry bushes, Senum said. A herd of 200 goats can consume about an acre a day, with clean-up crews following along behind to complete the process.

“Whatever the goats do, we make sure they are followed up with hand crews,” she said. “We make sure the job is completed before we go on to another piece of property.”

A state agency in California has used goats to lessen the risk of wildfires, while officials in some places have deployed herds to battle invasive plant species in city parks.

Senum launched the fundraiser in December rather than wait for the city’s appropriations process to find the money. There’s a collaborative group in place mulling options for fire prevention measures, she added, but rentable goat herds book up quickly, and the city risked missing the opportunity to clear the land ahead of this year’s fire season.

“They’re still in the meeting stage. They have another meeting set up for May 1, but the weather could be heating up by then. We have to move faster than that,” she said. “Time is of the essence. I could not think of any other way that I could make this happen any faster.”

The city’s regulations allow for the move, as elected officials are prohibited only from using crowdfunding to finance political campaigns. As of Tuesday, the campaign had raised $24,665 of its $30,000 goal. Many of those donations are from local residents, though others came from out of the state and country as news of the Goat Fund Me spread.

Goat herds grazing in Pioneer Park in Nevada City during a public demonstration this month. (Courtesy of Reinette Senum)

City officials have taken some action while they wait for the fundraiser to conclude, including financing a public demonstration of the grazing herds in a local park. Twenty-eight goats were deployed to thin out heavy blackberry bushes, penned in by an electric fence and easily visible to the public. The reaction was largely positive, Senum said, aside from a few residents whose dogs had run-ins with the fence (all are fine).

The long-term goal, Senum said, is to identify stable revenue sources to release goats onto city-owned land each year. The city put out a request for proposals to area ranchers and grazers and will prioritize bids at a council meeting later this month. Over time, the process will hopefully reduce the risk of wildfires while giving the local economy a boost, Senum said.

“It’s a great opportunity to build our local economy around forest restoration,” she said. “Our goal is to get those 450 acres grazed over the next three years, and set the precedent that this is what we do, over and over again, every single year as long as we’re here.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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