Weed-eating goats might return to graze in Edmonton parks

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Sep 02, 2022September 2, 20222 minutes read A goat with Baah'd Plant Management browses on leafy spurge in Rundle Park in Edmonton on June 12, 2019. The goats, part of a three-year pilot project, are trained in targeted browsing to eat noxious weeks among other plants. A goat with Baah’d Plant Management browses on leafy spurge in Rundle Park in Edmonton on June 12, 2019. The goats, part of a three-year pilot project, are trained in targeted browsing to eat noxious weeks among other plants. Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia, file

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Herds of weed-devouring goats may descend on Edmonton parks once again as the city looks at novel ways to keep weeds at bay.

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Councilors asked city staff this week to put together a plan for the upcoming budget cycle for using goats or “other grazing animals” on city property. Ward Papastew Coun. Michael Janz said the idea came when the council was considering a possible pesticide ban and pointed out that Fort Saskatchewan uses flocks of sheep.

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“Especially for visitors, young people, kids, they’re immensely popular,” he said during Monday’s council meeting. “Kids will be flocking to see the kids.”

Janz said council will be dealing with a tough budget in this case but the program could be educational for children, and he wants to see a breakdown of how much it could cost.

“Almost 15 per cent of Edmontonians are under the age of 14, and when you think about educational opportunities and chances to learn about nature and to get out into the river valley, and the calming, hypnotic influence of animals that can take the most anxious of us and help us appreciate nature and learn more, I think there are huge benefits here to the region,” he said.

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Edmonton’s previous “GoatWorks” pilot used around 400 goats to manage noxious weed infestations in Rundle Park from 2017 to 2019. The program ended and didn’t resume amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city’s website said the herd was trained to target specific weed species like leafy spurge, Canada thistle, and toadflax, which is especially helpful in ecologically sensitive areas that could make spraying herbicides impractical or inappropriate.

Root of some weed growth unclear

But an independent review of the GoatWorks pilot prepared by University of Alberta master’s of kinesiology student Julie Ostrem with mentor Qiting Chen of the city’s pest management section found goats could make some weeds spread even more although the results were inconclusive.

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Overall, the review found the number of weeds went up but grass species declined. Leafy spurge was an exception — these declined after goats passed through. Canada thistle, however, increased.

The scholar’s review also didn’t have a control site so it’s impossible to say how climate and temperature patterns affected the outcomes, there was also a grass fire in 2021 that affected the results, and more research is needed, the report states.

The report, hosted on the City of Edmonton’s GoatWorks site, states it doesn’t reflect the views of the city, its staff, or the contractor.

Goats help reduce fire risk by helping get rid of dry materials at the bases of trees and reduce weeds from spreading by getting the animals to eat the weeds before they seed, according to the city’s website.

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that the review of the GoatWorks pilot was independent of the City of Edmonton and the report’s findings.

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