Anaheim Fire & Rescue has really got your goats when it comes to wildfire prevention

By Jessica Peralta

California’s winter rains have helped improve the region’s drought conditions, but there are other effects of increased rainfall: more growth in wildland areas.

Fortunately, Anaheim Fire & Rescue has a comprehensive wildfire mitigation program already underway to help lessen the chances of serious fires.

The agency’s secret weapon?

Goats.

“They’re here to do work for us,” said AF&R Fire Inspector Adrian Abel.

The 170 mostly Boer goats eagerly munching and bleating their way through the 27-acre Pelanconi Park in Anaheim on April 27 are there as part of a three-phase strategy Anaheim Fire & Rescue has for managing invasive plant overgrowth in the city’s wildland urban interface – where residential properties intersect with wilderness areas.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Inspector Adrian Abel, left, and Fire Chief Randy Bruegman look over goats being used for a natural weed abatement program that uses live goats to eat the weeds and other brush at Pelanconi Park in Anaheim before it dries and becomes a fire hazard.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The first phase is for the goats to clean up invasive plants like mustard weed, thistle and tumbleweed – which all happen to be what goats eat, said Johnny Gonzales, owner of Environmental Land Management, which owns the goats Anaheim Fire & Rescue has contracted for hire.

“They have evolved to eat our weed problems,” said Gonzales.

Phase two involves contracting with the Orange County Conservation Corps to pick up where the goats leave off by trimming and clearing areas the goats can’t reach, as well as grinding up trimmings and packing them back into the ground in the form of mulch to provide added nutrients.

“That’s the goal, to get it back to its natural vegetation,” said AF&R Fire Marshal Allen Hogue.

A goat eats the brush at Pelanconi Park in Anaheim.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The final phase is replanting of native plants like California sagebrush back into the area. Once all three phases are complete, all the park will need is light maintenance – possibly with the help of more goats.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue started with the smaller of the wildland areas – Pelanconi Park – because it could be completed this year with funds allocated by the city. The idea is that next year the park will be in the maintenance phase, while the 72-acre Deer Canyon Park Preserve can go through all phases of the weed abatement program.

While the Conservation Corps crew did do some heavy manual and mechanical work removing dead trees, vegetation and dead sagebrush on the eastern-facing slope of the park, the goats are doing such a good job cleaning up the invasive weeds that Anaheim Fire & Rescue is just letting them do their thing.

“We’re kind of letting the goats go at it on their own … just because it was so much growth,” said Abel.

And the enthusiastic goats have no trouble scaling steep slopes and moving through dry creeks.

A sign at the entrance of Pelanconi Park in Anaheim informs the public about goats being used to help clear the brush before it dries and becomes a fire hazard.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“As you can see, the goats are happy,” said Gonzales, adding that what they enjoy doing is browsing and eating, and they get to do it out in wildland. He estimates the goats will probably be working the area for 27 days.

The public also is happy, said Abel. Anaheim Fire & Rescue has been getting calls from residents ecstatic at the wildfire prevention efforts.

“Everyone loves seeing the goats,” Abel said.

Johnny Gonzales uses bales of hay goats normally eat to draw the herd to a different location of Pelanconi Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

A goat stands on a hill to get at brush at Pelanconi Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Johnny Gonzales with one of the goats he uses for environmental land management, including reducing vegetation in areas to prevent a fire hazard.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

An area in Pelanconi Park in Anaheim with houses on top in need of vegetation reduction ahead of fire season.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Goats cross a gully on a stone bridge as they reduce the vegetation at Pelanconi Park in Anaheim.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC