Goats return to Bear Creek Park for fire mitigation, weed control

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COLORADO SPRINGS – An annual weed control and fire mitigation project has returned to Bear Creek Regional Park in Colorado Springs and with it, hundreds of goats. The animals will chew down dead and dormant brush.

Lani Malmberg owns the Goat Green, a business with 1,200 goats in its ranks, and a mission to clean up weeds, brush, and other grass-like plants that can become overgrown and contribute to high fire danger.

“This year it is absolutely fire mitigation. Because of our crazy weather, we’ve had intense fire danger everywhere,” Malmberg said.

Every year, the Bear Creek Garden Association, which oversees the Charmaine Nymann Community Garden at Bear Creek Regional Park, raises donations in order to hire Goat Green to clear out the area surrounding the garden. This year, 600 goats are stomping around the park.

Many grasses and weeds grew larger than years past due to a wet spring, then dried out and died during an arid summer and fall. Many of those plants can become ladder fuels—fuels that can carry a fire that starts on the ground, spreading it into trees, which would ignite larger fuels.

“The fire fuel ladder is what fuels [the goats],” Malmberg said. “Then they recycle all that through the gut, then it comes out as pure organic fertilizer, and the 2,400 hooves till the land and stamp it in. So you have fertilizer, irrigation, tilling and trampling.”

The process of using goats, Malmberg said, is vastly superior in cost and time than machines that do similar work. Typically it costs $1,000 per day for the goats to come to a plot of land. The goats do the work that tilling machines, heavy machinery and fertilizers – that can contain chemicals not naturally found in an environment – would have to try to emulate in order to get the same job done.

“To me, it’s the most efficient and cheapest by far,” she said.

Malmberg says she has never seen the soil as dry as it is this year, and many people who use the park tell her the same.

Goat Green has two other operations currently working across Colorado, one in Golden and another in Cherry Hills. She started the business with her son in 1996, and now, it has grown to 15 states in the western United States.

Her herd has grown from 100 to 1,200 and has, at times, eclipses 2,500 of the ungulates.

Malmerd said, after completing graduate school at Colorado State University, she though, “somebody ought to start a business where you just [bring] the animal that eats whatever the problem is.” And Goat Green was born.

Wherever the herd goes, Malmberg says, they always attract a crowd. She estimates 1,000 people visited the heard each day over the past weekend.

She hopes it is a chance to teach people living in urban areas about sustainable land practices, water use, and the origins of their food and resources.

“How do we value the land? It is our nest and how do we take care of it?” Malmberg said. “It’s my belief that our civilization, our people now are three generations disconnected from the land, so, this is a connection and re-connection that people are starved for.”

Malmberg and her goats will be out at Bear Creek Park until Friday, Dec. 24.

She and El Paso County Regional Parks urge dog owners to obey the leash requirement in the park, a law enforced by The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region.

Visitors are reminded to use caution near the electric fence that keeps the goats contained.

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