Chew on this: Buckthorn for breakfast, lunch and dinner at park reserve


Goat 0525, left, is one of more than 100 goats at the Lake Elmo Park Reserve helping to curb re-sprouts of buckthorn and honeysuckle, two non-native invasive plants, by eating them. Goats set out to work July 22 at Lake Elmo Park Reserve as Nick VonRuden with Goat Dispatch counted them. (Amy Felegy photos/Review)

Goat 0525, left, is one of more than 100 goats at the Lake Elmo Park Reserve helping to curb re-sprouts of buckthorn and honeysuckle, two non-native invasive plants, by eating them. Goats set out to work July 22 at Lake Elmo Park Reserve as Nick VonRuden with Goat Dispatch counted them. (Amy Felegy photos/Review)

Just minutes after being released from the trailer, the herd of goats wasted no time — or buckthorn — as the hungry animals browsed the first reserve area. (Amy Felegy photos/Review)

Alta along with more than 100 others will help reduce buckthorn, which is an invasive plant, in the Lake Elmo Park Preserve.

The purple areas above outline where the goats will work throughout the next several weeks, spanning 12 acres total. (courtesy of Washington County)

Those passing through the Lake Elmo Park Reserve this week may notice an unusual zoological addition to the area. 

On July 22 more than 100 goats arrived at the reserve to eat non-native plants under a plan formed by Washington County and grazing rental company Goat Dispatch.

After the most recent human-led buckthorn removal at the reserve in February 2018, which was funded by the county, several invasive plants have re-sprouted. 

The goats will continue munching through 12 acres across the reserve in the coming weeks to make way for native plants. A stewardship fund is financing this summer’s project at $499 per acre, putting the total cost at around $6,000.

 

Why goats?

Jake Langeslag, founder of Faribault-based Goat Dispatch, says it sometimes makes more sense to hire goats instead of humans — especially after a hot and buggy week. Some reserve areas are also steeply inclined or wet, proving difficult for machinery and city workers to access the plants.

“[The goats] are there all day and night for the duration of the project,” he says, noting they graze within electrically-fenced areas. “So they just have to sit here and process. All they do is eat and sleep and hang out, and work through these plants here. They do a really good job.”

Not only is it an alternative to human labor, says Dan MacSwain with Washington County, but it also curbs unsightly and less environmentally-friendly herbicide use.

“I get complaints with herbicide,” says MacSwain, the county’s natural resources coordinator. “With goats, there are no complaints. It’s probably the opposite. It’s like, ‘Thank you for using a natural approach.’”

 

Making way for biodiversity 

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says honeysuckle and buckthorn out-compete native plants and shade out ground plants, often completely excluding other species from growing. These particular invasive plants reproduce via seed-spreading often aided by birds, the DNR says. Some honeysuckle plants can even grow into the winter months.

Goats gravitate toward woody and brush-like plants such as honeysuckle and buckthorn, making them great stewards of invasive species removal.

Moss is managing to grow underneath the reserve’s buckthorn, but MacSwain says there’s not much plant variety beyond that. Nodding to a similar project in Cottage Grove, he says the surplus in diversity in that area after just two or three grazes is incredible — he says he’s surprised to see so many different grasses and sedges popping up now.

“We want to get the same diverse plant community here, too,” MacSwain says, specifically noting oak savanna’s hopeful resurgence. 

Goat Dispatch has worked with the county before, and about 750 of its goats are currently at work at some five Minnesota sites. The company’s Nick VonRuden says each animal is named to better keep track of them — goats Alta, Zelda, Cade and Ben worked the preserve that first day — though there are only so many short names out there.

“We’re kind of running out of names to give them,” he says, noting the monikers should be five letters or fewer to fit on their tags. “I guess the numbers will do for now.”

The goats will be in four different paddocks throughout the Lake Elmo reserve, likely spending a week or two at each site. So far, the only problem Goat Dispatch sometimes encounters is deer knocking down fences, but there seem to be few issues with the public interacting with the goats.

 

Next steps

MacSwain says the county will likely bring goats back next year to browse the land before finishing up with herbicide in two years. After that, cattle and bison could be introduced to target different plants and areas of the park.

 

–Amy Felegy can be reached at afelegy@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet
Comment Here