Goats bite back at invasive blackthorn plant on Putney Mountain
PUTNEY -- Claire Wilson said there was a fair amount of eye-rolling going on among the Putney Mountain Association board members when she suggested that the group bring a small herd of goats up to the summit to help control the invasive buckthorn plant.
For about 10 years the aggressive plant has been spreading on Putney Mountain, while volunteers have been working tirelessly to beat it back to preserve the popular hiking outlook.
It’s frustrating, Wilson said, and with the volunteer commitments diminishing, and few other options outside of applying chemicals available to the group, Wilson thought the goats might be the most Eco-friendly solution.
"We’ve been cutting it, and cutting it, and cutting it, for more than a decade," Wilson said about the invasive plant that grows back thicker and stronger after every clipping session. "There was some shaking of heads when I brought it up. I know a lot of other groups use herbicides, but there’s got to be a better way."
Wilson was able to convince the board to give the goats a try, and after raising some money through grants and donations a small herd of 14 goats walked up to the summit of Putney Mountain Saturday to munch on the buckthorn, and other woody plants.
It will cost the group $3,000 for two sessions.
The animals were brought up by The Goat Girls Brush Clearing, of Amherst, Mass., a company that touts its ability to remove unwanted vegetation without chemicals, noisy machines or gasoline and oil.
The Goat Girls staff members navigated their truck load of goats up the steep Putney Mountain Road, and then they walked the small herd up to the summit, accessing the mountain from a short trail off of a private residence on Banning Road.
The goats will be up there for about two weeks, with staff members camping out alongside, until the buckthorn is chewed down to the root.
They also plan to return in July for another browsing session.
Wilson is one of the founders of Green Mountain Spinnery, and she and one of the other co-founders, David Ritchie, are somewhat familiar with how industrious and productive goats, sheep and llama can be.
"The first thing I ever said to anybody when I heard they were doing this was, ‘People are doing this with animals,’" Ritchie said Saturday while the fence was going up around a thick patch of buckthorn. "We had to find someone who was doing this locally, and then we had to convince the Putney Mountain Association because they were filled with uncertainty about it."
Goat Girls staff members Chelsea Grybko and Jordan Imhoff walked up to the summit first without the goats and put up a 100-foot fence.
They will move the fence around the mountain over the next few weeks as the goats take care of one patch after another.
Grybko said the organization has worked in parks and conservation areas, but never on a mountain top before, and they generally walk the goats back home every night.
This will be the first time the staff will sleep out, with the goats, and remain with them while they work.
"This will be unusual," she said. "We’re totally game. Just finding people to camp for a length of time was the most challenging part. The goats are going to love it."
After the fence was secure they walked back down to their truck, lifted a latch, and out jumped the goats.
They walked up the trail, stopping once in a while to munch on some of the green leaves that were at snout level.
The animals were led into the fenced area and quickly began chewing on the buckthorn without any direction.
Goat Girls Brush Clearing owner Hope Crolius said she was unsure about traveling up to Vermont for the job because the company takes its sustainability claim seriously and tries not to travel too far.
"I can’t believe we’re doing this," she said. "It is a little far afield, but it seemed like such a unique opportunity. The goats are here in an exploratory way to see if using livestock, on land, to keep invasives at by, is a good model."
She also said the goats have never worked on a mountain top and she has never asked her staff to sleep outside with the goats.
Typically they visit residential yards and estates to eat away at the poison ivy or bittersweet.
"Every job is different," Crolius said. "I think the goats are going to be very happy with everything in here, and you will be amazed at what they will go through in a short time."
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