Highway101 goats

Natural lawn-mowers — A herd of 400 goats have been deployed along the embankments of U.S. Highway-101 near Healdsburg by Caltrans in a coordinated effort with CalFire, State Senator Mike McGuire’s office and the North Sonoma County Fire Protection District in an effort to reduce fire fuels and create a fire break.

In an effort to create a fire break by clearing vegetation, dried brush and weeds along a two-mile stretch of north and southbound U.S. Highway 101 between Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg and Canyon Road in Geyserville, Caltrans has deployed 400 goats to munch away at the excess shrubbery and grass in the area.

Caltrans coordinated with State Senator Mike McGuire’s office, the CalFire Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit and the North Sonoma County Fire Protection District to implement the vegetation reduction project and the goats began their eco-friendly mission on July 22 along the northbound 101 area between Healdsburg and Geyserville.

With the ability to consume an acre to an acre and a half of dry vegetation per day, the herd of goats completed their work along the northbound stretch earlier this week and are now eating away at the free salad buffet that is the southbound 101 stretch.

Jeff Weiss, a Caltrans spokesperson, said the goats will be working along the southbound area for the next five to six days. Temporary fencing has been installed in the area to corral the goats and a goat herder and a guard dog will remain on site to manage and protect the herd.

“There are about 400 goats that are eating grass, weeds, branches — the things goats like to eat — creating a very effective fire break,” Weiss said.

While cows only eat what’s close to the ground when grazing, goats like to nibble at surrounding branches and brush that’s both low and high to the ground and they can consume poison oak.

“Goats are the premiere animal to use for vegetation control,” Weiss said.

“It’s easy to corral the goats and they’re happy being out there doing what they do, eating all of the leaves and brush,” he said. “Cows eat low to ground stuff, but goats eat high and low and that’s what we need, we need the grass low and branches down.”

In a July Caltrans press release about the program, Fourth District Supervisor James Gore said grazed areas made for an excellent fuel break during the Sonoma County wildfires.

"During the Tubbs and Kincade fires, we saw that grazed land provided strong and effective fuel breaks that protected homes and forest," Gore said in the press release. "This is exactly the kind of project we need in Sonoma County."

Caltrans has used goats to reduce fire fuels in other locations but never to this scale. In May they brought a herd of goats to the Bay Bridge approach in San Francisco to clear away the hard to reach brush on the steep slopes of the approach.

“Caltrans Bay Area utilizes an integrated vegetation management plan,” Caltrans Bay Area Director Tony Tavares said in a statement, “which includes diverse methods of controlling roadside weeds, grass, and shrubs. Grazing goats can’t be used in every situation, but when appropriate, it’s an excellent method of controlling brush without using herbicides.” 

The goats will continue their work along southbound U.S. Highway 101 for the next few days and while no lane closures are scheduled due to this operation, motorists are encouraged to drive with caution through the area.

Highway 101 goats closeup

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