Goats return to manage vegetation along Mill Creek channel

Published June 20, 2014
   Two herds of goats came to Mill Creek to remove weeds and other vegetation growing on levees that border the creek shoreline extending from the Mill Creek diversion dam downstream to the metal division works foot bridge near the Mill Creek Office. 
   The first herd (about 200 goats) grazed on the south side of the Mill Creek channel. The second herd (about 450 goats) gnawed away amongst the rip rap slopes on the north side of the creek. 
   Once areas downstream of the diversion dam were cleared of vegetation, the herds relocated upstream to tackle vegetation on the forebay levee. 
   The forebay levee was closed while the goats are grazing there, although the paved trail remained open along the toe of the levee. The entire job took about two weeks to complete.
   This project is necessary to allow U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff to safely inspect the levee later this year during periods of flood risk. A $6,025 contract for the vegetation removal was awarded to Lazy H Livestock of Grangeville, Idaho.  
   “We’re really excited about having the goats back to do this work again. Goat grazing is an effective way to control vegetation without using herbicides or burning,” said Mill Creek Park Ranger Chris Alford. 
   Grazing also lessens future maintenance by reducing seed production, added Alex Colter, project manager for Mill Creek’s vegetation management project. 
   The company uses electric fencing, shepherds and professional working dogs to keep the goats corralled while working in the vegetation-maintenance zone. The metal division works footbridge near the Mill Creek Office was open for use during grazing. 
   In-water recreational activities in the Mill Creek channel along the vegetation removal zone were temporarily suspended during this time, because the working dogs might perceive visitors as a threat to the herd. Visitors and their dogs could play in the water downstream of the metal division works footbridge or at Bennington Lake. 
   “Visitors should never attempt to approach the goats or working dogs -- young goats are present and the mamas are pretty protective. So are the working dogs,” said Alford. “These are not pet goats; they can be pretty skittish if people get too close. We asked the public to keep their distance and let them do their job of eating the weeds and brambles off of the levee.”
   Last year, a herd of about 70 goats was first used by Mill Creek staff to control vegetation along a small section of the south levee. The goats’ effectiveness prompted staff to broaden this year’s work area.