Chilliwack puts goats on invasive plant duty

A trial on March 23 using goats to remove blackberries was deemed successful, so more work in Chilliwack with the goats is slated for May.

City of Chilliwack recently joined forces with the Fraser Valley Invasive Plant Council and University of the Fraser Valley to try out goats

City of Chilliwack recently joined forces with the Fraser Valley Invasive Plant Council and University of the Fraser Valley to try out goats

It’s a bold idea to save time, money and the environment by controlling invasive plants with hungry goats.

City of Chilliwack recently joined forces with the Fraser Valley Invasive Plant Council and University of the Fraser Valley to try out goats for “targeted grazing” on noxious plants such as Himalayan blackberries and Japanese knotweed.

The use of goats could become a new tool for communities like Chilliwack seeking ways to manage non-native plants known to have a deleterious effect on ecosystems, animals or humans, by choking out or competing with native plants.

“The goats seem to work on so many levels. The benefits include reducing herbicide use and mowers that can foul the air,” said Mayor Sharon Gaetz.

“It’s such a gift, and we hope it leads to a template to be used by other communities as well.”

A one-day trial in Chilliwack was held on March 23, paid by the Invasive Plant Council, targeting Himalayan blackberries within a fenced in perimeter. The trial, using a contractor’s goats and herding dogs, was deemed successful, so more work in Chilliwack with the goats is slated for May.

Turns out goats are actually hardwired to browse and eat the weeds rather than grass, which is something being investigated at UFV’s Centre for Agricultural Excellence.

“Who knew that noxious weeds were so delicious, and preferable to grass?” the mayor added.

The goats’ digestive systems actually render the seeds of Himalayan blackberries non-viable, which is another plus.

The first trial site was at a storm water detention pond. The goats were actively managed by the contractor. They were unloaded and then corralled with a temporary fence to zero in on the blackberries and start munching.

The highly invasive and damaging Japanese knotweed found on city-owned rural land is next up on the list. They’ll be conducting a trial in May on a patch on the banks of a water course scheduled for some regular drainage maintenance.

Typically an excavator would do the ditch cleaning, passing over the knotweed and potentially getting fragments stuck in the tracks, and inadvertently carrying them to another site.

Japanese Knotweed has been popping up around Chilliwack for years, but they decided to try to manage it a couple of years ago. Mapping has begun for known sites and it’s been spotted in more than 225 locations.

City of Kamloops has successfully employed the same goat contractor in its parks, but Chilliwack is staying out of its park land for now, and concentrating on city property with invasive weeds, which would otherwise have to be managed by city staff.

The goats are also being eyed for removing wild chervil, tansy ragwort and giant hogweed.