Published : Friday, September 13, 2019 | 5:05 AM
South Pasadena’s hills will soon be alive with sound of bleating.
Fire officials there announced the City is going with a herd of goats to clear underbrush on a public parcel as a fire prevention measure next week, but a Pasadena official says it’s not likely to see that four-legged solution here anytime soon.
“We get a high rate of compliance with our hazardous vegetation program and clearance,” said City spokeswoman Lisa Derderian.
The South Pasadena approach targets a very “defined and confined area,” she said. “So we don’t really have a need for that at this point. Not that we wouldn’t explore the option in the future if it does work well for South Pasadena.”
Which is to say that what Pasadena is already doing, a mixture of brush clearance through human labor and spraying, is working for the time being and officials see no reason to toy with it.
The South Pasadena Fire Department is contracting its goats from an outfit called Sage Environmental Group. It plans to set them loose to clear 10 acres on the backside of Hanscom Drive, down to the border with the City of Los Angeles.
According to the Department, the area has never been cleared before. The goats are set to arrive September 19, about 150 in total. The operation is funded from that part of the public works budget dedicated to addressing city-owned, unimproved lots.
Novel as it may sound, South Pasadena is not the first, and is far from the only, fire department in Los Angeles County using goats, according to Alissa Cope, principal, Sage Environmental Group.
“Chief Riddle contacted us. Maybe he heard about it through the County,” said Cope.
She said Sage Environmental has worked with the L.A. County Fire Department for a long time.
“A fellow named Jay Lopez is on the vegetation management side and he’s been very supportive of using animals for fire abatement,” she explained.
Sage Environmental Group does a lot of habitat restoration, she explained. That involves the removal of invasive plant species.
“We were doing a lot of chemical spraying and looking for a holistic way of providing the first phase of habitat restoration,” said Cope.
The group eventually hit on the idea of grazing goats.
“They consume it. We call it ‘head down’ because that’s all they do. It’s gone,” she explained.
It is, Cope said, an excellent way of reducing fuel loads without a lot of labor and chemicals.
“They actually consume the vegetation rather than just weigh it down,” she noted, “which would be something that a weed whacking, or some kind of mechanized treatment, would do. It gets rid of the biomass.”
It is nonetheless a labor-intensive enterprise and not just for the livestock. The goats come with a herder and some guard dogs and, no, it’s not even a profitable enterprise.
“We don’t really make money on the goats,” said Cope. “I would say we probably break even. Initially, there’s a lot of startup costs and caring for the goats is labor-intensive.”
For Sage, maintaining 250 head of goat at ranches in Acton and Whittier is an investment in its long-term goal of restoring native habitat to Southern California.
“We really think that it’s an important tool,” Cope concluded, “so we’re making that basic investment to try and help us meet our goal.”