How Goats Are Preventing Wildfires in California
The city of Anaheim near Los Angeles has renewed a contract with the company Environmental Land Management to keep goats munching on fire-fuel year round, NPR reported Sunday.
Goats are ideal fire-preventers for two reasons: They can navigate steep hillsides and they tend to eat more flammable non-native grasses and leave native plants alone.
"It would be almost impossible for a human to sit there or walk up and down with a weed whacker or a Weed Eater, so that's why we use the goats," Anaheim Fire Marshall Allen Hogue told NPR.
A November 2019 study found that non-native grasses were one of the factors increasing the risk of wildfires, making them two to three times more likely, NPR reported. Researchers have also found that these grasses tend to spread more easily because of the climate crisis.
That's where goats come in.
"Goats are really good at eating stuff, right?" UMass Amherst environmental conservation professor and study co-author Bethany Bradley told NPR. "The challenge with them though, is that you can't just do it once. They need to go back time and time again in order to keep controlling that biomass."
Which is why it makes sense that Anaheim has decided to keep its goats. Around 400 of them began grazing its Deer Canyon Park in July 2019.
Anaheim isn't the only California city to turn to goats. It's common practice throughout the state, The Sacramento Bee reported.
The practice gained national attention in October 2019 when a herd of 500 helped save the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library from the Easy Fire by eating flammable grass.
"One of the firefighters mentioned that they do believe the goats' fire line helped them fight this fire," library spokeswoman Melissa Giller said, as CNN reported at the time. "They just proved today how useful they really are."
Other states are also waking up to the value of goats, The Guardian reported in July 2019. Last summer, they were also used in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Nevada.
And demand is rising.
"It's not an underestimation to say that we got over 100 calls a month from private individuals with smaller parcels, little lots or things from an acre, 2 acres requesting the goats," Environmental Land Management operations manager Johnny Gonzales told NPR. "And unfortunately, as a commercial herd, I can't take on all these private lots."
Mike Canaday, who has been providing goats to coastal California for more than 15 years, told The Guardian that demand in 2019 was "huge, just crazy."
"If people want goats, the sooner they can get on somebody's waiting list, the better," he said.
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At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
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