A herd of 40 goats, funded by donations, munched their way through invasive species like English ivy and Himalayan blackberry for four days last weekend to clear the underbrush at the Salem Audubon Society’s Nature Reserve in West Salem.
Stephanie Hazen, retired veterinarian and a wildlife photographer who is involved with Audubon, conceived the project. Hazen was concerned by the dense growth of unhealthy weeds on the seven-acre parcel that includes steep inclines. The special wildlife habitat was donated to Salem Audubon by the Gehlar and Schneulle families in 1992 and is considered a regional asset.
For more than ten years, Audubon volunteers have cleared the woody acreage by hand, but some parts are very difficult to access.
Rachel McCullum, owner of Oregon’s Yoder Goat Rentals which provided the zesty eaters, says that goats are often used for hard-to-access areas like this by city parks, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and private people with extensive acreage or “just back yards, overgrown with blackberries.”
One corporation hired the goats, McCullum says, when it needed to install a huge storm drainpipe. “But they couldn’t see the terrain, and it was dangerous for people and could have wrecked expensive earth-moving machines. No one knew what was under there. So how do you get rid of blackberries? You use goats!” McCullum says her charges have uncovered cars, old sheds, longs and “late-1800’s farm machinery” under layers of dense foliage.
Yoder operates a flock of about 100 goats and used 40 for the West Salem project. The animals have given visibility and access to Audubon volunteers, who will do the final work of pulling the roots of objectionable invasives.
“The goats really reduced the biomass,” Hazen says, who raised money for the animals by crowdfunding donations.
Families and children visited the reserve to watch the animals at work. Sturdy and graceful, comical and endearing, McCullum says, “I always say when people think about renting goats, don’t forget the entertainment value. We’ve actually had people cry when we take them home from a job.”