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Living weed-eaters 

County considers cutting goat program

click to enlarge Char Nyman and friend
  • Char Nyman and friend

Everyone has heard some story, real or imagined, about the hefty appetites of goats. Whether it is their penchant for eating garbage (soda cans and glass bottles included) or their desire to eat people's shirts right off of their backs, everyone knows that goats can and will eat almost anything.

Their peculiar taste for weeds has led to their use as effective weed control agents in the United States and abroad. Even El Paso County has had its fair share of goats.

Since the fall of 1999, a herd of around 1,000 Cashmere goats have been used to manage rampant infestations of weeds and help restore the land in eastern Bear Creek Park. Despite their progress, the goats might not return.

On Sept. 9, Assistant County Administrator Dennis Cripps ordered the El Paso County Environmental Services Department to conduct a study on the goats' effectiveness. Though studies elsewhere have determined the cost of using goats for weed control is cheaper than spraying herbicides, the county isn't convinced it is cheaper.

"The purpose of the study is to really look at and evaluate, on a scientific basis, the effectiveness of the goats as a weed-control tool," said Environmental Services Director Jerry Haile.

Some, however, maintain the goats have already proven their worth.

Char Nymann, head of the Bear Creek Garden Association, is leading the fight to continue the county's goat weed-control program.

"I've been trying to get them to stop spraying since 1995 and until the goats came there was no way to get them to stop," Nymann said. "Previously, children had been hand-catching fish out of Bear Creek. When they were spraying, there was nothing there to catch; it was killing everything. Birds would eat the flower heads of the different weeds and they would just die right there because they [the weeds] had been sprayed.

"Now that the goats have been in the park, the birds have come back," Nymann said.

The Parks Advisory Board will take up the matter at their next meeting, scheduled next Tuesday, Oct. 14.

-- Grayson Mendenhall

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