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Would goats have helped?

Goat

As the Catalina fire tore through dry chaparral toward Avalon on Thursday, it came as no surprise that some residents were talking about goats.

Thousands of free-running goats have been killed or removed from the island since the early 1990s as part of the Catalina Island Conservancy's efforts to restore the island to its natural state. The wild goats, descendants of farm animals imported by early settlers, were prolific grazers that consumed native chaparral and scrub plants and left hillsides barren of vegetation. A goat-free island would allow native plants and animals to rebound, said officials with the conservancy, which manages 88% of the largely uninhabited island. But on Thursday night, one island old-timer waxed nostalgic for the old days of well-grazed terrain.  (More below)

-Deborah Schoch

"The goats kept the darn brush down," Joe Voci, 85, told a Times reporter.

That did not sit well with Bob Rhein, director of media relations at the conservancy, which has contended with goat-related controversies for decades.

The group removed the goats only after considerable study, Rhein said today.

"We studied what was happening, and the grazing pressure was just too much for the natural ecosystem to fend with," Rhein said. "Plants that should have been there just weren't anymore."

He added, "The natural ecosystem was not rebounding. But it is now. Ask anyone."

And on Catalina, for better or for worse, the natural ecosystem includes plants and shrubs that burn.

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Comments

Candace Propst

The problem with goats is that they eat everything. If they would only eat invasive non-native plants, they would be okay. Native California plants thrive on fire; it's probable that the native plants will do much better after this cleansing fire. Nonnative grasses planted for the livestock burn much easier than coastal sage brush, but once introduced, they are difficult to eliminate. Fires are good for the land but bad for the people.

RM Cleese

Regarding bringing back the goats, the most logical answer would be to have a number of them fenced in in a perimeter around the town of Avalon so that they could create a nice, wide firebreak. But the fence would have to be really fail-safe so that the rest of the island could continue to advance to its natural state.

Richard Halsey

The removal of goats and other non-native herbivores has allowed Catalina to begin its slow recovery from what was once an over-grazed dirt lot to a beautiful native ecosystem, one that attracts thousands of tourists every year. The fire had more to do with record low fuel moistures than anything else. The unfortunate part of it all is that we were just a few years away from being able to properly manage the ecosystem's recovery after a fire. But now, the remaining non-native herbivores (deer and buffalo) will swarm to the burned area like hungry locusts once the plants start to resprout and seeds begin to germinate. This is because within Catalina's soil is a treasure trove of seeds that have been waiting for this very moment for perhaps centuries to germinate. Stimulated by fire to emerge, these seedlings have the ability to restore the Island to what it once was, before the goats, pigs, deer, and buffalo stripped much of the landscape to bare dirt. If the non-native herbivores are allowed to enter the burned area, most hope for recovery will be seriously compromised. Goats were a significant reason why a fire occurred in the first place because of the invasive weeds they brought in and the landscape they stripped. Over-grazed landscapes are prone to weed invasion which create the fine, flashy fuels that increase the risk of fire. Goats were part of the problem, and are certainly not something we want to bring back.

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