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Reno Fire Department enlists goats to fight fire

 goat in field
Sophia Holm
A goat walks to catch up with the herd.

The Reno Fire Department has partnered with private and public organizations to take a natural approach to reducing wildfire risk in Reno.

During a panel discussion on fire prevention methods, one of the Reno Fire Department’s new recruits was asked about how they will be working to tackle invasive and highly flammable cheatgrass. Her answer was to bleat and walk away, following the rest of the herd as they wandered off to their next grazing site.

Spanish goats were the newest recruits helping the Reno Fire Department reduce the risk of fires this season. The department has partnered with government and private organizations to take a natural approach to reduce wildfire risk in Reno.

With the help of Border Collies and guardian dogs, High Desert Graziers uses goats for weed management and wildfire mitigation services. The Reno Fire Department works with the company to protect residential and environmentally sensitive areas, said fire marshall Tray Palmer.

“For the last three years, we’ve been bringing in the goats to kind of get into the areas we couldn’t get into with the hand crews, and then also to maintain the properties here,” Palmer said.

The goats help thin out cheatgrass without the need for herbicides. This is especially helpful for pollinating plants that sustain bees, Palmer said.

“That’s why we’re using goats. The herbicides could be harmful to the bees where the goats are not,” he said.

While there were concerns about how the goats would affect native species, the fire department worked with the city horticulturist and urban forester to identify sensitive plants. And the dogs keep the goats away.

High Desert Graziers owner, Denton Cook, said the goats don’t usually want higher-quality, native plants.

“The good grass is like way down the bottom of the list of their menu, they’ll go for all the invasive weeds first,” Cook said.

The goats are much more effective for rocky and steep terrain, eliminating the need for machinery or hand picking in those areas, NV Energy fire chief Mark Regan said.

“We don’t have to worry about the goats sparking a fire from hitting the rocks. And then also, they’re removing the vegetation right in place where we don’t have to haul it up the hill,” he said.

The goats will be working at Caughlin Ranch in Upper Rosewood Canyon until July 7, when they’ll be trailed down to the Lower Rosewood Canyon to continue their hard work.

Sophia Holm is a student reporter for KUNR and the Hitchcock Project for Visualizing Science, which is part of the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Sophia Holm (she/her) is a Lake Tahoe resident with a deep passion for nature and an even stronger love for storytelling. She strives to provide KUNR’s listening region with strong stories about climate news, issues, and solutions.
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