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Weed Eating Goats Used to Reduce Risk of California Wildfires
Photo credit: rent-a-ruminant LLC
The utility for northern California, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), has enlisted the help of more than 900 goats to clear dried brush on 100 acres of its property. The goats will be used to clear poison oak and brush that is considered a fire hazard. Goats are being used across the country as an effective least-toxic solution for weed management.
The pilot project started this past August and will run through mid to late September. The project is overseen by Flying Mule Farm owner Dan Macon, who has been contracting goats for land clearance for close to 10 years. The goats for the project are coming from Macon’s farm as well as Star Creek Ranch, a goat and sheep operation in the Central Valley.
Goats graze the area in fenced in five to 10-acre sections and have already proven to be incredibly effective by reducing one area with two foot high grass to less than an inch high in just 24 hours. The goats were brought in specifically to reduce dry, flammable vegetation.
“We don’t want fires being sparked and goats are the perfect opportunity,” said Lynne Tomachoff of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in a report by Fox40.
Four years ago a fire in Auburn, CA, burned 340 acres, destroying 66 homes and three commercial buildings. Residents were worried that another fire was possible on the hillside being grazed by goats, as a similar hillside fed the earlier fire.
Goats help reduce the risk of fire by grazing on dead and dry vegetation that easily burns. Goats also help reduce the risk of fire by replacing mechanical methods of brush removal like mowing. Though mowing is an effective form of brush control in most climates, mowers and other mechanical methods can create sparks that can ignite grass fires in extremely dry areas.
Residents have responded positively to the use of goats as a fire control. Katy Smotherman, a local resident, was quoted by Fox40 saying, “I looked up and saw the goats. I was ecstatic. Like the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Beyond Pesticides has long been an advocate for the use of goats and grazing animals as a least-toxic solution for weed management. Goats are often more efficient at eradicating weeds, and are more environmentally sustainable than using harmful pesticides and chemicals. Goats consume everything from shrubs and weeds to thistles and poisonous plants. They can graze up hills and down gullies that are too steep for mowers or machines. As they eat, the goats ensure that weeds do not go to seed. By snapping off flower heads and eating off all the leaves, weeds cannot photosynthesize sunlight to build a root system.
Goats also boost soil health in two important ways: 1. fertilizing soils with their nutrient-rich feces and urine, and 2. tilling hard drought-stricken soils with their hooves.
The use of goats as a least-toxic solution for weed management has caught on all across the country. Recently, goats were used to control poison ivy, ground cover, vines and other invasive weeds at the congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC. Goats were used in Durango, CO, to manage weeds, restore soil, and improve land quality on a 65-acre plot that was used for oil exploration. Goats have even been used at airports in Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco where overgrown property is difficult for machinery and pesticide applicators to reach because of hills and standing water.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
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In a pilot study at the University of Helsinki, dogs trained as medical diagnostic assistants were taught to recognize the previously unknown odor signature of the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus. And they learned with astonishing success: After only a few weeks, the first dogs were able to accurately distinguish urine samples from COVID-19 patients from urine samples of healthy individuals.
Important Findings for Other Teams<p>The very rapid and promising findings from Finland are also important for other research teams, such as those in Great Britain and France, who are training sniffer dogs to detect COVID-19.</p><p>Fellow researchers from the <a href="http://assistenzhunde-zentrum.de/index.php/news/covid-19-hunde" target="_blank">German Assistance Dog Center (TARSQ)</a> have also benefited from the Finnish results.</p><p>"No one could tell us with certainty whether training with the aggressive virus is <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/dutch-house-pets-test-positive-for-coronavirus/a-53460111" target="_blank">dangerous or not for humans and dogs</a>. We wanted to gather more information first before we started training because the German virologists advised us against it — after all, so little is known about the virus so far," explains Luca Barrett from TARSQ.</p>
Where Does the Characteristic Smell Come From?<p>It is still unclear which substances in urine produce the apparently characteristic COVID-19 odor. Since SARS-CoV-2 not only attacks the lungs, but also causes damage to blood vessels, kidneys and other organs, it is assumed that the patients' urine odor also changes. This is something which the dogs, with their highly sensitive olfactory organs, notice immediately.</p><p>Certain diseases appear to have a specific olfactory signature that trained dogs can sniff out with amazing accuracy, Barrett says.</p><p>"According to one study, dogs can detect breast cancer with a 93% probability, for example. And lung cancer with a 97% probability," she says.</p><p>But dogs can also identify skin cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer or prostate cancer very reliably, according to Barrett. "The hit rate, which was not so good in the early days of training, has risen enormously in recent years," she says.</p>
Hit Rate Decisive<p>Besides cancer, the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/german-sniffer-dog-makes-1-million-drug-bust/a-53433307" target="_blank">dogs</a> can also detect Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's sufferers smell different even years before they have the disease. "That's how we came up with the idea of training dogs as an early warning system for Parkinson's," Barrett says.</p><p>Dogs are also trained to detect malaria, but the hit rate is not yet satisfactory, she says. So far, the dogs recognize seven out of 10 infected persons, which is not enough.</p><p>A high hit rate is, of course, also absolutely necessary when training for the aggressive SARS-CoV-2 pathogen, according to Barret. "We hope that the hit rate for the coronavirus is significantly higher in the fully trained dogs; after all, it would be very dangerous if COVID-19 were not detected," she says</p>
Trained Tracking Dogs<p>Dogs' ability to smell is about a million times better than that of humans. Humans have about 5 million olfactory cells, compared with 125 million for dachshunds and 220 million for sheepdogs.</p><p>Dogs also inhale up to 300 times per minute in short breaths, meaning that their olfactory cells are constantly supplied with new odor particles. In addition, dogs' noses differentiate between right and left. This spatial sense of smell allows the animals to follow a trail more easily.</p><p>During the training sessions, the dogs — mostly Labrador retrievers or retrievers in general, but also cocker spaniels or sheepdog breeds — are each trained for one scent. That can be the smell of a drug or an explosive, or, as here, the olfactory signature of a specific disease.This means that one dog cannot recognize several types of cancer.</p><p>The animals are trained with containers holding samples of breath or sweat, for example. As soon as they have identified the smell they are looking for, the dogs hear a click and get a treat. They are reliably trained for the one smell on this reward principle.</p>
Great Potential, Great Skepticism<p>Drug and explosive detection dogs have been used for some time. But trained medical scent detection dogs are also now working in hospitals. For example, they sniff the bodies of patients with suspected skin cancer to try and detect the disease — only with the patients' consent, of course. So these skilled snufflers are helping doctors in diagnosing diseases and detecting them early on.</p><p>However, so far there are only very few medical detection dogs. The dog owners almost always work voluntarily and the trained sniffer dogs live in normal households. There is great skepticism, especially among traditional doctors and health insurance companies, even though the first indications given by the dog have to be followed by further medical tests anyway and a lot of time and costs could be saved by early cancer detection.</p>
Possible Coronavirus Applications<p>If the findings from Finland are confirmed, the sniffer dogs with their extremely sensitive sense of smell could prove to be a great help in the fight against the new coronavirus.</p><p>Luca Barrett from TARSQ can easily picture coronavirus sniffer dogs being used in situations where there is a high risk of infection. For example, people attending football matches and other major events could be checked before they are admitted.</p><p>The dogs could also be employed at airports to scan people entering a country. "When the dogs go down the queue, they can detect if someone is healthy and can enter the country. But if a person smells of COVID-19, the handler could send that person to a coronavirus testing center instead," Barrett says. That is because a second test is still needed to confirm the dog's initial sniff detection.</p><p><span></span>Barrett says dogs could also be used to search for the virus on surfaces. For example, before passengers board an aircraft, a four-legged friend could first check whether the machine is free from SARS-CoV-2. Similar measures are planned for doctors' surgeries, aged care homes or nursing homes that have had to be evacuated because of COVID-19 cases. Before these are used again, a sniffer dog could check whether the environment is "clean."</p>
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