MILTON-FREEWATER -- A herd of hooved barbers is giving the city's levees a trim job.
About 235 goats are at work munching away at unwanted vegetation on the levees along the Walla Walla River. The hircine crew went to work late last week and are expected to gobble up plants covering some three to four miles along the levee system before they finish their nine-day contract.
Owned by Craig Madsen of Edwall, Wash., the herd has provided a viable alternative to removing unwanted vegetation by chemicals, burning or other methods, said Brian Wolcott, executive director of the Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council, which is managing the project.
Wolcott said the idea of using the animals to remove vegetation came out of meetings last year between community members and officials to seek solutions to structural problems in the levee system.
"During one of the tours of the levees in 2010, somebody suggested using goats," he recalled.
The idea gained traction when John Stevenson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said he could find grant funding to make the idea a reality.
Madsen's company, Healing Hooves LLC, was hired to graze the levees for nine days, finishing Thursday. The project cost is $7,000, which includes grant funds and in-kind work by the watershed council staff to manage the project, Wolcott said.
The goats will stay on the levees during the entire time with Madsen camping nearby to watch the animals. The herd is confined to a selected area by a portable electric fence that is moved as needed.
When it comes to weed control on the levees, goats have a lot of advantages. They scramble easily up and down the rocky sides of the banks, undeterred by any blackberry thickets, and munch down just about everything green.
Wendy Harris, watershed council operations manager, said they will be taking "before" and "after" photos of the grazed areas to gauge how effective the animals were in controlling the vegetation.
Andy Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8318.