Friday, May 9, 2014

Goats to reduce fire risk on Tubbs Hill

Hundreds of goats will soon make Tubbs Hill their temporary home as the city prepares to reduce brush naturally to help protect the 120-acre park from the threat of a catastrophic wildfire.

The city has contracted with a natural vegetation management company to reduce shrubs, known as ladder fuels, which present a danger because they can accelerate fire into treetops making it much more difficult for firefighters to contain.

More than 250 goats will be moved to the west side Tubbs Hill next Wednesday as part of the ladder fuel reduction project designed to keep potential fires small, near the ground and more fightable, said Coeur d’Alene Urban Forester Katie Kosanke.

“The goats eat leaves and stems and prevent seed production, are a light impact on the site, and provide a natural vegetation management alternative,” she said.

The goats will be contained to one-acre tracts by low-voltage electric fencing. The fencing will be at least 15 feet away from trails. Once the goats have sufficiently reduced shrubs from a tract, they will be moved. Over about a three-week period, the goats will reduce brush from 22 acres.

The project is funded by a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant obtained by the Coeur d’Alene Fire Department.

Natural vegetation management is actually less expensive than reducing shrubs mechanically with chainsaws and by hand, Kosanke said. It is also beneficial because there is less burnable material left behind. Cost of the goats is $500 per acre. Mechanical management ranges from $900 to $1,500 an acre.

Kosanke said there will still need to be follow-up mechanical removal of ladder fuels, but it will be “significantly reduced” by the goats.

Glenn Lauper, a deputy fire chief with the Coeur d’Alene Fire Department, said reducing ladder fuels gives firefighters a better chance at controlling a fire. “It suppresses the fire before it gets into the crown of the tree, where it spreads quickly,” he said.

Park users are reminded to stay on marked trails and keep dogs on leash. Signage will be posted. There will be no trail closures.