Goat Grazing No Solution

The recent commentary by Mark Nelson in the San Francisco Chronicle, who works for the Ag industry, suggesting that grazing by goats and other livestock can help reduce wildfire losses in California deserves qualification.  https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/How-goats-can-help-prevent-California-wildfires-14871742.php

As a landscape response to large fires, grazing is no solution. In many ecosystems, particularly in the parts of the state where sagebrush occurs, livestock grazing favors the growth and spread of flammable grasses like cheatgrass. Grazing in other parts of California where exotic grasses have taken over the landscape can favor the expansion of starthistle, another exotic that most animals find unpalatable. Not to mention, fuel reductions by grazing are short-lived since the plants rapidly grow back.

All of the wildfires that have done substantial damage to California homes occur during extreme fire weather events, which include drought, high temps, low humidity, and, most importantly, high winds.

Under such wind-driven events, wildfires rip through all fuel reductions, including prescribed burning, thinning, and grazed sites. We have numerous examples where such “solutions” have failed in California.

Research has shown a reduction of fuels in the immediate area around a structure (typically less than 100 feet), and the flammability of the structure itself is the only practical solution.

Goat grazing might help in such limited areas, but as a response to large wildfires, livestock grazing is a misguided strategy.






  1. Barrie K Gilbert Avatar

    George has the big picture and rigorous ecological science always in mind. Goats may help with invasive species in limited areas but let’s not grasp for simplistic “solutions”.
    I’ve been reading Fred Provenza’s recent book “Nourishment” which has all the background on grazing species, especially domestic animals. Not dealing with fires but mind-blowing insights.
    Keep us informed George, you are always reliable. And please support George, as I do, so he can continue.
    Barrie Gilbert

  2. Rebecca Cummings Avatar
    Rebecca Cummings

    My goats eat thistle — love it! It’s a favorite!! They eat pretty much everything but some grasses and a few plants — they avoid milkweed (a good thing for the monarchs), locoweed, and purple flowered green pea fruited stickery nightshades. They limb up trees as far as they can reach so trees you want to keep should be protected until they’re 15′ tall or so. Except for the humans use of chainsaws, you cannot tell where the goats efforts stop and the humans’ paid efforts start.

    Btw, goats are browsers, not grazers. The difference is grazers are like mowers and browsers are like the 3 year old girl picking wildflowers.
    Cows are grazers and running a herd of cows or horses behind the goats will keep the grasses the goats miss down. Goats are great, but they can’t do everything. And humans think they can but …..


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner