By Andrew Goldstein and Rawson Jahan
Fourteen goats of Nubian, dwarf and other pedigrees, have been on the job to remove mugwort, autumn olives and other invasive species of plant from the Underhill Preserve in Jericho, Long Island since late August.
“Goats are effective in removing invasive species from the land and are absolutely more safe than using machines or chemicals on the land,” Ann Cihanek, co-owner of Green Goats, said. “Goats don’t erode the land, there’s something about their stomachs and what’s in their poop that stops the seeds from germinating again.”
The Stewardess of the preserve, Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society was originally granted $39,000 from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to restore the land in 2013. Because the cost of renting the goats is roughly $16,000 per season, the society needs to continue raising funds to keep the project going.
“We found that goats are a cheaper option than herbicides and mechanical means,” John Wernet, Supervising Forester, Division of Lands and Forests, NYSDEC–Region 1, said. “With herbicides you have to deal with unintended consequences. Goats are the greener option which is really our purpose.”
Before nonnative plants entered the land, the preserve served as a grassland for various species of bird. “We want to bring it back to a bird sanctuary,” Stella Miller, the President of The Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society, said.
“Invasive plants reduce the populations of native plants by competing with them for space, light, water, etc.” Resit Akcakaya, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University, said. “As a result, they may also reduce the numbers of native animals that depend on the native plants. If not controlled, invasive plants can take over large sections of preserves and other protected areas.”
The invasive plants do not support caterpillars and insects—animals that birds prey on, resulting in a decline of the bird population.
In preparation for the goats, the preserve’s property is watered daily by a nearby homeowner. Then, after work, Stella Miller, the President of The Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society, takes care of the goats and leads them to the invasive species.
Currently, the goats only having access to six acres of the land. Miller hopes that with more goats in the future, they can have access to the other 30 acres of land that also have invasive species.
“Restoration takes a while and you want to do it in small patches as to not ruin the land,” Miller said. “The hope is that in two seasons, some of the invasive plants will be gone, and then in the next few years, we can either get rid of them ourselves or they won’t regrow on the land anymore.”
This is not the first time the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has used goat to contain invasive species. In 2014, Goats were used to control the growth of autumn olive and mugwort in the 812-acre Edgewood preserve located near the shared borders of the towns of Babylon, Islip and Huntington.
“The Underhill project was one of the five restoration projects selected for funding,” Terri Edwards, Chief of Public Affairs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Northeast Region said.
The goats will stay in Underhill Preserve for two browsing seasons at which point they will return to their farm and a new team of goats will pick up where they left off.