Goats back at work in park

Despite a season-ending massacre last year, weed-eating goats will once again be employed to control and, if possible, eradicate the non-native plants and weeds that plague Bidwell Park.

Since 1999, herds of gluttonous goats have eaten their way through acres of Upper and Lower Bidwell Park, sparing the use of noxious herbicides in favor of a more-natural form of vegetation control.

But last September, after a summer marked with mindless acts of vandalism and incidents of goat harassment, came the event that quite literally got goat herder and business owner Danny Mitchell’s goat or, more precisely, goats. An unleashed dog attacked and killed six of his animals in Lower Park. Mitchell called it quits, and it looked like the city might have to return to the use of herbicides to control the unwanted flora from taking over the park.

This week the city announced goat control has returned to Bidwell Park. The city has contracted with T and V Grazing of Corning to use 500 goats to graze on a 30-acre patch north of the Five Mile Recreation Area, followed by a 10-acre area near the Chico Equestrian Center. This year the goats will graze only in Upper Park.

Dennis Beardsley, the city park director, said the goal of the program is to reduce fuel load to lessen the chance of wildfire, eradicate star thistle and chew off the lower limbs of oak trees, making them less vulnerable to fire. The cost of goat-eating weed abatement is $350 per acre, and the job should be completed by the end of May, said Beardsley.

“We’re looking to also use the Salt Creek [Conservation Corps] crews to hand-pull some of the weeds,” Beardsley said. “We want to minimize the use of herbicides, and there will be some discussion on that next month.

“We’ll use a combination of techniques, not just goats and not just hand crews,” he said.

He said that, after three years of using goats, the city is “not claiming victory” over the invasive plants like Himalayan blackberries and star thistle, but much progress has been made. It is a slow process that takes three to four years to begin to have an effect, he said.

T and V is owned by Terry Adams, who in the past has lent some of his cloven-hoofed landscapers to herder Mitchell, which means some of these goats should know the lay of the land in Bidwell and feel right at home. Though you can bet they’ll be keeping an eye out for unleashed dogs as they eat their way through the park.

The city says that park visitors are invited to watch the goats but must stay outside fenced areas—it’s an electric fence—and not pet or feed the animals.