Goats pull their weight in fighting fires

Research project shows animals are viable wildfire prevention method


Three Rock Canyon High School students are cleaning up at science competitions with their research project analyzing the goats used as wildfire mitigation in the Castle Pines area.

Dana Coe, 18, a senior; Delaney Yehle, 17, a junior; and Loren Rylander, 17, also a junior, took first place for their research in the environmental category at both the regional and state science fairs.

The girls looked into two things. First, they examined environmental impacts of goats as wildfire mitigation, and second, they determined whether the goats are effective in that role. They found no significant impact on the environment, either good or bad, and concluded the goats are successful at reducing dense, gambel oak that's prime fuel for wildfires.

In areas studied, goats reduced density by 50 to 60 percent, said the girls' biotech and research teacher, Shawndra Fordham.

Goats have been used as fire mitigation in Douglas County since 2015. It takes 300 of them roughly an hour to clean up one acre. The cost is about $1,000 a day in addition to startup fees and mileage for the company providing them.

All the girls said they were attracted to a science project that had real-world implications.

“It's going to make a difference,” Coe said. “It's not just classroom research.”

The project required coordinating with South Metro Fire Rescue, local communities and homeowners associations.

“Learning to work with all these people, it was a huge collaboration,” Rylander said.

They started work over the summer, gathering data in areas where goats browsed before school began. Sometimes, they spent several hours in the lab on Saturdays to get the work done. The trio also wrote grants and found a soil expert from Colorado State University who mentored them.

“We thought it was a great way to be involved in the community,” Yehle said of the project.

The study is a long-term project that will carry over into the next school year. Coe will graduate and plans to attend the University of Colorado -Boulder to study bioengineering, but Yehle and Rylander will continue researching the goats in their senior year at Rock Canyon.

Einar Jensen, a risk reduction specialist with South Metro Fire Rescue, said the girls' research, which took about one year, provides him data proving the goats are a viable method to prevent wildfires, and that they can be less stressful on the environment than other methods.

“Where do you go for citizen science? You go to your local high school,” he said. “It's a perfect partnership.”


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