Goats tackle invasive weeds next to railway tracks. James Snell/The Free Press

Grazing kids tackle invasive and noxious weeds

The City of Fernie, via Kimberley area goat grazing contractor, Vahana Nature Rehabilitation, has commenced a pilot project to remove invasive and noxious weeds on City owned property near the Railway Dog Park.

In a statement, the City of Fernie said if this pilot project is successful, the City may work with the contractor to use the goats in other sensitive areas throughout the City to target weed-filled areas.

“Targeted grazing helps encourage biodiversity, the growth of native vegetation and enhanced health in sensitive areas. By utilizing goats, we hope to achieve healthier parks and public spaces,” said the City.

Vahana Nature Rehabilitation’s core value is, entirely dedicated to the environment as we are reducing chemical spraying and are bringing a holistic method of land rehabilitation.”

Company shepherd Dennis Wass, a sustainable resource management student from Memorial University, said he’s traveling throughout the Kootenays, and even to Calgary, on a mission to battle invasive plants.

“It’s a common myth that goats will eat everything,” he said. “You have to train them on specific plants, because they won’t eat anything they are not familiar with. The lead goats are the first to try something out.”

Wass said that his herd is trained to eat over a dozen invasive plant species.

“They eat blue weed, spotted knapweed, toad flax, and mullein – those are the first that come to mind,” he explained. “The goats live on a ranch just outside of Kimberly. They sleep and stay wherever they are working.”

Wass said the goats will be in Fernie for four to five days to help offset the use of herbicides.

“We’ll be doing all along the [dog] park and railway track,” he said. “The issue with herbicides is they can be fairly nondiscriminatory, and you’re adding some harmful chemicals into the environment that effect wildlife and insects in the area.”

Wass said the goats don’t kill the plant outright.

“The goats crop off the top, especially the flowering heads. Then the plant draws on root carbohydrates to survive. The goats eat the seeds, which do not pass through in a viable way. Hopefully the plants die during the winter because they have been stressed.”

In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified the common herbicide, glyphosate, as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

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