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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

SACRAMENTO RIVER NWR:  Managers Choose Goats Over  Tractors

Region 8, March 1, 2008
Goats being used in WUI hazardous fuel reduction. (FWS Photo by Joe Silveira)
Goats being used in WUI hazardous fuel reduction. (FWS Photo by Joe Silveira) - Photo Credit: n/a

Kipp Morrill, Sacramento River NWR

Faced with challenges of how best to reduce hazardous fuels on refuge lands in an era of climate change, habitat and fire managers at the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge  are choosing goats over tractors.


Land managers face many challenges when implementing  hazardous fuels reduction projects. Often, these projects occur near and within areas where wildlife habitat (refuge) meets human habitat (homes).  In these areas, known as the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI),  treatments  such as prescribed fire and other options are difficult to employ.


The Rio Vista Unit of Sacramento River NWR is a multi-million dollar riparian restoration bordered by several private residences and a state and county park.  Refuge land and fire managers examined several options to reduce the buildup of hazardous fuels on the unit to  reduce the risk of a wildfire impacting nearby homes. When the use of goats was mentioned, all agreed that goats could be the perfect way to reduce hazardous fuels and at the same time potentially improve the native plant diversity and habitat.


After the contract was secured with the owner of a local goat herd, careful preparation and monitoring were required by refuge staff to ensure that the fuel reduction objectives were being balanced with the resource goals of the refuge. Goats were restricted to small areas bordered by a portable electric fence. The goats were placed in areas strategically to make the most impact on targeted hazardous fuels such as brush and low tree limbs.


Normally, refuge managers remove brush and small limbs using manpower and plenty of heavy equipment. The goats are cost-effective, don't burn fossil fuels and are an excellent environmental alternative," said Kevin Foerster, project leader at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex (NWRC). "They are saving us thousands of dollars in labor, fuel and equipment costs."


It didn’t take long to see just how effective the goats were going to be.  In just a few days, the several hundred goats had cleared away several acres of thick brush and grass.


"In addition to the cost benefits, we realize the added benefit of knowing we have an adequate fire break between wildlife habitat and nearby homes," said Kipp Morrill, assistant fire management officer at Sacramento NWRC. 


The innovative fuels reduction project is a success and is being evaluated for use on other  lands. The adjacent private landowners and county public works department are also  impressed with the results of the goats' work. The goats will be used at various units on the refuge throughout the summer, and seem ready to eat their way through the next project site.




Kelly Moroney, Refuge Manager and Kipp Morrill, Assistant FMO

Sacramento NWRC

Contact Info: Kipp Morrill, (530)510-6331, kipp_morrill@fws.gov