California Town's 'Goat Fund Me' Campaign to Alleviate Wildfire Risk Is a Nibbling Success

Goats merrily munch on dry brush in Redwood City, California, in 2002. Historic Nevada City is now crowdfunding for prescriptive grazing on city-owned land as a means of protection against wildlife. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The idyllic mountain town of Nevada City, California, is still looking for a few good goats.

More specifically, Nevada City officials are looking for a few good goats to continue clearing flammable underbrush in and around the Tahoe National Forest-abutting burg.

But acquiring the in-demand services of nature's most prolific eradicators of pesky and, in this case, potentially dangerous, vegetation don't always come cheap. And this is why town officials are relying on the largesse of others by maintaining their crowdfunding campaign, dubbed "Goat Fund Me Nevada City," with the hope that money raised will pay for prescriptive grazing across all 450-plus acres of Nevada City's greenbelt. In total, the town, a gold rush mining camp-turned-outdoor recreation gateway that's nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and home to a wealth of landmark structures, aims to raise $30,000 for these services — and they've almost reached their goal. As of this writing, they've reached $26,000.

As the campaign's GoFundMe page explains, prescriptive grazing costs in the ballpark of $500 to $1,000 per acre. A herd of 200 industrious ungulates can tackle roughly an acre a day. And with the wildfire season months off (although this designated season is morphing into a year-round affair in California), this doesn't seem too impossible a feat.

Yet there's a sense of urgency to the proceedings as ranchers have already booked the largest local herds through the spring, summer and fall. This means the goats need to be rented now, this winter, and get down to business in overgrown areas tout suit. The town is still seeking to secure grant funding for prescriptive grazing but, like all endeavors of a bureaucratic nature, that takes time to sort out. As the Goat Fund Me Nevada City campaign, which was launched late last year by Nevada City Vice Mayor Reinette Senum on behalf of Financial Director Loree McCay, makes clear, there is no time.

downtown Nevada City, California
Quaint, historic and wildly photogenic, the former gold rush outpost of Nevada City is a popular hub for outdoor pursuits in the Sierra Nevadas. It's also incredibly vulnerable to fast-moving wildfires. (Photo: Noah_Loverbear/Wikimedia Commons)

Goatscaping as a means of fire prevention

While Nevada City wasn't directly impacted by the catastrophic wildfires that raged across large swaths of California last summer, the town of just over 3,000 residents isn't located too far from where the fires hit hardest. (The town of Paradise, virtually erased from the map by the Camp Fire, is situated roughly 50 miles to the northwest in neighboring Butte County.) And Nevada County — of which Nevada City is the county seat — has been ravaged by wind-driven wildfires before including 2017's Lobo and McCourtney fires. In other words, the threat is real.

Reads the campaign page:

There is little need to stress how important it is to the safety and wellbeing of Nevada City citizens and neighboring residents that we reduce the fire load in our surrounding forests and neighborhoods. The unprecedented fires in California, particularly in Paradise, have hit all too close to home and have become the ultimate cautionary tale.

Using goats to clear overgrown vegetation on city-owned land is viewed as a no-brainer preventative measure in limiting the destruction unleashed by wildfires.

As Senum explains to the Los Angeles Times: "If we're not proactive, if we don't help ourselves, no one else is going to step up." She adds that Nevada City is particularly prone to wildfires "because we're an outdoorsy community. We spend a lot of time in nature and we're packed with brush that turns into tinder that needs to be cleared."

Although using goat-power to clear unwanted vegetation — be it as a means of lowering wildfire risk or beautifying a major urban park — is more affordable and easier on natural landscapes than bringing in human-operated machinery, the process is a bit more involved than just plunking a few goats down and letting them have a go at it for the afternoon. A herdsman, who comes with various support trailers and the requisite herding dog in tow, needs to be in attendance at all times. Fencing often needs to be erected and signage needs to be posted well in advance to alert the public to the presence of a ruminant landscaping team.

And when dealing with such a large swath of land, high-risk sections need to be identified and prioritized in advance, which Nevada City has already done. Particularly overgrown — and vulnerable — areas in and around the town will be cleared first by goats. Community volunteer crews — and, in some areas, members of jail work release programs — will then go through high priority areas and remove additional vegetation by hand. The town also plans to stage a demonstration event in Pioneer Park so that local residents and landowners can learn more about the benefits of prescriptive grazing.

While using surefooted, nimble-lipped mammals to clear fire-prone landscapes is far from a new concept, a town turning to crowdfunding to get the job done is. "It's an interesting way to run a city campaign," local rancher Brad Fowler, who is working with Nevada City officials to, well, get their goats, tells the L.A. Times. "I like how people can choose to spend their money."