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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Rock the goat: City elects to use animals to mow down vegetation

Horsepower is overrated.

Spokane is harnessing the power of 200 goats.

A herd of goats was deployed into Hangman Park on Friday afternoon and given the enviable task of endlessly eating.

Over the course of several days, the masterful masticators will work their way through several acres of low-lying brush that could, if left unchecked (or unchewed), become fuel for a wildfire.

It’s all part of a pilot program the city launched this week.

The risk of wildfire in a relatively small Spokane city park may seem modest in comparison to the great open forests of the Pacific Northwest. But officials note that the whole point of city parks is that they’re accessible to neighborhoods. One fire in Hangman Park could spread to dozens of nearby homes.

“We’re so lucky to have this type of natural conservation land next to our neighborhoods, but with that, comes some of that risk,” said Garrett Jones, director of Spokane Parks and Recreation.

The advantages of goats are aplenty, but among them, they’re more environmentally friendly than fuel-powered equipment and nimble enough to chew in hard-to-reach areas.

By munching through vegetation that’s within a few feet of the ground, goats help prevent fires from spreading to the canopy of Ponderosa Pine trees above.

And it’s a deal, officials said.

To send human beings into Hangman Park would, financially, be “unreasonable,” said Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer.

“It takes humans a lot of time to bring down this much, and then to dispose of this much fuel. That’s one thing the goats are extremely good at,” Schaeffer said.

Earlier this year, the city tapped Healing Hooves, a company based in Edwall, in Lincoln County, to oversee the project in Hangman Park. (Healing Hooves is co-owned by Craig and Sue Lani Madsen, who is a regular columnist for The Spokesman-Review.)

The shepherd keeps the goats confined by a fence, which can be adjusted as needed to allow the goats to work their way across the property.

Hangman is adjacent to the city’s Creek at Qualchan Golf Course and abutted by numerous homes.

The pilot program will be extended to two more parks in 2021 in each of the other two City Council districts. Meadowglen Park will represent the northwest and Minnehaha Park the northeast.

If the program is a success, it could be expanded to numerous other city parks. About half of the city’s parkland is, like Hangman, undeveloped conservation land.

The pilot program was funded by the Spokane City Council with $5,000 from its own budget in 2020. The parks department is expected to fund the program in 2021.

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