Weed-control program ends in massacre

Six goats that were part of the innovative program to clear non-native plants from Bidwell Park were killed last Thursday morning, Sept. 6, when an unleashed dog apparently broke through the goats’ protective electric fence and attacked.

This attack, combined with other seemingly mindless acts of vandalism, have caused goat owner Danny Mitchell to pull off the job three years after he was hired to graze his goats where herbicides were once sprayed.

Four baby goats were killed and two adults received fatal injuries. Three others were left ill by the stress of the attack.

By Monday evening, Sept. 10, Mitchell had loaded up the last of his herd to transport it back to his ranch in Elk Creek.

The fatal attack, he said, was the final straw of an increasingly troublesome year. Two days before the attack, he said, he caught two grown men in the pen chasing the goats. One day later, someone stole a $600 piece of his electric-fence system.

Even on the day he was loading up, he discovered the fence had been broken again.

At the time of the dog attack the goats were stationed just east of the Highway 99 overpass in Lower Park.

The attack occurred between 7 and 8 in the morning, a time when dogs are allowed to be off leash in the park.

“I think it was one dog with its owner,” Mitchell said. “Somebody flipped over the [electric fence] energizer and unplugged both sides so they could get the dog out.”

The goats, he said, are worth $100 to $150 each.

As Mitchell loaded his trailer, people walked, jogged and bicycled by smiling at the dusty roundup, with no idea the goats were leaving for good.

While the goats were a major summer attraction, their presence also apparently attracted a certain oddball behavior.

“It got kind of ridiculous,” Mitchell said. “People would get angry with me, telling me what plants the goats should and should not eat. Then there was one guy who complained that the goats were too loud when he made his lunch-hour jog. He told me it was his ‘quiet time.’

“I just tried to shrug it off, but it got worse.”

Earlier in the year, in Upper Park, he said, he caught five men throwing walnuts at the goats.

“They were in their mid-40s to mid-50s, and I really chewed their asses out,” he said. “I said ‘You guys gotta be ashamed of yourselves.'”

Of last week’s attack, Mitchell said it was a case of bad timing.

“I was down here until 7,” he said. “I rode back to my trailer to get some gear and a cup of coffee. I was gone an hour. Of course it happens on the hour I’m not down here. That’s when you wake up and say, ‘Well, it’s just not worth it.'”

City Park Director Dennis Beardsley, who was key to bringing in Mitchell and his goats, said he was sorry to see the program end this way.

“He was beginning to have some problems, and we tried to put a positive sign on it with our press release last week about giving the goats some respect,” Beardsley said.

But the killings, he said, were “kind of the end of it for Danny.”

In the days following the attack, the city paid for 24-hour security to protect the herd, Beardsley said. Altogether, the goats were to cover 46 acres, and all but two or three acres were completed. Mitchell will be paid for services rendered.

The city paid $325 per acre cleared, which is more expensive than using herbicides but has less impact on the park itself and is much more environmentally acceptable. Also, as mentioned, the goats were a major attraction for park visitors.

A similar service costs about $1,000 per acre in the Bay Area, Beardsley said.

“The disgusting part is it took us several years to find someone who could do the job on a long-term sustainability,” Beardsley said. “We hoped it would work. And we couldn’t have asked for anybody better than Danny. I don’t know. This is extremely discouraging. We’re going to have to take a step back and look at this.”

Mitchell said he, too, was sorry the project ended this way.

“I feel bad having to cancel it,” he said. “I really tried to make it work. But I leave my family for two months to put up with this?”

Mitchell said he is not sure what he’s going to do next, that he has no other weed abatement jobs currently in the works.

"We have a newborn baby," he said. "He was three months premature, but he’s doing real well. I think I’ll just go home and spend some time there."