Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Goats are not the solution for bike path

    For three years I have observed with interest the use of goats to control knapweed on the bike path between my home in Indian Creek and Hailey. I have a long-standing interest in alternatives to herbicides and am familiar with native plants, grasses and invasive weeds as a result of my work with native landscapes over the last 25 years.
    I appreciate the effort to find an alternative but I believe the use of goats should be discontinued. I see no significant decrease in the knapweed and the intense grazing pressure required to ensure the knapweed is grazed weakens the native grasses that occupy the right of way, setting the stage for an invasion of the right of way by cheatgrass. Money now being used on goats would be better spent mechanically removing the knapweed and trying to enhance the growth of existing native grasses. Weeds colonize disturbed niches in the environment and the best hope of slowing the spread of invasive weeds is to maintain a healthy community of perennial grasses, forbs and shrubs.
    Prolonged grazing of native grasses weakens them and opens space in the ecology for invasive species. Cheatgrass has spread into these disturbed environments and now threatens even relatively intact native plant communities. The dry rocky environment along the bike path is already susceptible to colonization by invasive weeds including cheatgrass. By damaging the native grasses now growing along the bike path, we are disturbing a relatively stable situation and increasing the chance that weeds will spread. Each knapweed flower and cheatgrass seed head produces hundreds of seeds. The goats eat the knapweed flowers but miss some and ignore the cheatgrass altogether. Trampling hooves create a perfect seed-bed for the remaining seeds and make the problem worse long-term.

Kelley Weston

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