Chancy J. Gatlin-Anderson
Special to Colorado Community Media
The Spring Valley Ranch community in the northern Elizabeth area has adopted a natural approach to fire mitigation this year. Instead of plowing down the tall grasses to reduce the risk of brush fires, the community has hired 1,200 goats to take on the job.
Beginning May 1, the 1,200-goat herd descended upon Spring Valley Ranch and stayed for nearly two weeks to work as much of the open brush land as they could.
“During our board conversations, our HOA president, Ann Wright, suggested the use of goats,” said Byron McDaniel, Spring Valley Ranch HOA vice president. “After looking into it, we found that using goats far outweighed the use of lawn mowers. It was also more cost effective.”
On April 21, Elbert County issued a Stage II fire ban in response to the low humidity, warmer temperatures, and high winds. Community leaders determined that the use of goats would not only help mitigate the fire risk, but it would also generally improve the land quality of the area.
“After the destructive woodland fires in Superior and Louisville, the HOA board determined that we needed to look closely at our community for fire mitigation,” said McDaniel. “We all agreed that it wouldn’t take much for a fire to start and it would be devastating.
The effort is in coordination with the Goatapelli Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in 2020. According to their website, in the face of climate change with less available water and more deadly wildfires, managed goat herds are an effective wildfire prevention tool with a comparatively tiny footprint.
In an email blast sent out to Spring Valley Ranch residents, co-founder of the Goatapelli Foundation Lani Malmberg explains that the goats serve multiple functions while grazing the land:
“The goats are doing 15 things at the same time. Beyond clearing the fire fuel ladder, the land also benefits from improved soil conditions and better soil health. Unlike the use of chemical applications, goat hooves play an important role in creating soil that is healthy because now it holds air and moisture.
“When goats stomp around, they aerate the soil and trample plant matter aiding the breakdown of nutrients by fungi and bacteria and boosting soil health including its potential for water retention, particularly important when vegetation moisture levels are low.
“Their hoof action prevents erosion and builds soil structure. Simultaneously, the vegetation the goats eat moves through their digestive tract and delivers accessible nutrients to soil microbes. When goats lay down together to sleep or chew their cud, their body heat warms the soil, helping seeds germinate.”