Goats graze in Brule Forest to thwart invasive species – Duluth News Tribune

0

BRULE — Goats watched a large black goat struggling to push a large buckthorn bush.

But when the bush came up to them, they jumped up. It was a rush of goats to reach the lush leaves that were beyond their reach before.

“They love buckthorn. They will eat this before anything else. … And that’s why this idea could work well,” said Dan Kephart, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources property manager for Brule River State Forest.

Kephart watched 32 goats from local goat herders, the regenerative ruminants, do their job, chewing on highly invasive buckthorn on a 5-acre patch of state forest about 40 miles east of Duluth.

Buckthorn has been here for decades, maybe a century or more, and it keeps spreading. The import from Europe grows quickly and tall, then shades the slower growing local native plants each spring.

Dan Kephart, DNR Brule River State Forest property manager, talks about bringing in goats to get rid of buckthorn as they graze in their paddock in the Brule River State Forest on Wednesday.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

“We chose this pine plantation because it is well defined and because almost everything that now grows under the tall red pines is buckthorn. Nothing else can compete with that,” Kephart said.

When MNR is ready to harvest the red pines here, if buckthorn is still growing below, this part of the forest could become mostly buckthorn plantation. Goats are an experiment to see if they are an effective way to get rid of buckthorn. They are now on their third rotation this summer, grazing this spot, returning every few weeks to chew on the new leaves that grow.

Buckthorn is an incredibly hardy plant and can survive being cut down to the ground, only to regrow again. Its seeds can also remain in the ground for years and then germinate.

A goat looks up from grazing in its paddock in the Brule River State Forest
A goat looks up from grazing in its paddock in the Brule River State Forest on Wednesday.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

There are other ways to get rid of them, namely chemical brushing compounds and manual or mechanical removal. But both are expensive. The goat project will cost the MNR Forestry Department approximately $7,500 over two seasons.

Dan Kephart, DNR Brule River State Forest Property Manager, watches buckthorn as it walks through an area of ​​the Brule River State Forest
Dan Kephart, DNR Brule River State Forest property manager, watches the buckthorn as it wanders through an area of ​​the Brule River State Forest on Wednesday.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

“We’re always being asked to reduce the amount of pesticides we use,” said Mary Bartkowiak, MNR forest health specialist who oversees the goat project. “We want the forest to be able to regenerate our native species. …If invasive species out-compete all native vegetation, we won’t have sugar maples, red pines, or white pines because they would be overtaken by invasive species. … So goat grazing is one more tool in our toolbox.

If buckthorn has no green leaves for most of the two growing seasons, that should be enough to kill it for good. Kephart said it will likely take another summer season of goat grazing on this plot to assess the goats’ effectiveness against mechanical removal and other efforts. A plot next to the goat area was mowed for comparison.

A goat grazes on foliage, including buckthorn, in its enclosure in Brule River State Forest
On Wednesday, a goat grazes on foliage, including buckthorn, in its enclosure in the Brule River State Forest.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

The goats are in a solar-powered electric fence enclosure that is often moved to new buckthorn patches. The fence keeps the goats in and the wolves out. Rhubus, a sturdy watchdog, is also on the lookout for predators.

Jake and Brigid Williams run regenerative ruminants on land they purchased this summer near Poplar. This is the third season that they have professionally operated goat farming. The grazing service takes time, but the two Williams also work off the farm.

A sign warns visitors of goat grazing
A sign warns visitors of goats grazing in the Brule River State Forest.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

“We started on our little farm (near Washburn) with a few of our own goats and people kept asking if we had rented them out yet. So we started adding more,” said Jake Williams. “We’ve seen what they’re capable of doing on our land, with tansy and goldenrod and other brush, so we know they can do the job.”

In addition to the herd of 32 goats, Ruminants Régénératifs also has a herd of 20 sheep for other trades. So far, most of their work has been for private landowners.

“We can tailor our herd size to meet customer needs,” Williams said. “It’s a process. …it’s not a silver bullet. We will have to come back for a second season and start over. But they will continue to eat.

Brigid Williams once had the job of eradicating invasive species on Madeline Island, but saw how pesticides were also killing native plants and animals.

“She said never again,” Jake noted.

Similar goat efforts were used by Douglas County to eradicate invasive species at Lucius Woods Park near Solon Springs.

Some of the buckthorn grazing goats look up from their paddock in the Brule River State Forest
On Wednesday, some of the buckthorn-grazing goats look up from their enclosure in the Brule River State Forest. The goats were brought in by Wisconsin DNR to help get rid of buckthorn, an invasive species in the forest.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

More information about invasive species in Wisconsin is available on the DNR website at dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/Invasives. More information on regenerative ruminants and the use of goats and sheep to eliminate invasive species can be found at washburngoats.com.

Buckthorn is an invasive species that is a growing problem in the Brule River State Forest
Buckthorn is an invasive species that is a growing problem in the Brule River State Forest.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

Buckthorn is a non-native woody shrub/tree that grows up to 20 feet tall. Also known as common buckthorn, European buckthorn, Hart’s thorn and European waythorn, the plant was introduced to North America in the 1800s, apparently for medicinal purposes or as a landscape plant , or both.
Buckthorn has spread across North America, particularly the Midwest and parts of Canada. There are two native buckthorns in the United States similar to it, which are smaller and do not spread as quickly.

Buckthorn has become popular for landscaping because it matures quickly and makes an attractive hedge. But its seeds quickly spread in wild areas. The bush produces many berries which are eaten and then spread by birds and rodents. The seeds are hardy and can survive for years in the ground. Buckthorn can grow in many soils and climates, but likes moist soil (not standing water) in Northland.

The problem is that, aside from goats, buckthorn is a poor food source for most wildlife. The high nitrogen content of the leaves modifies the soil, also affecting native plants. Most importantly, it grows so fast and tall that it shades and kills native trees and plants that are part of the natural ecosystem.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota are trying to determine if buckthorn can be thwarted by planting even faster-growing native plants to shade out buckthorn. But it takes plenty of shade, reducing sunlight to just 3-4%, to keep buckthorn at bay.

A goat grazes in its enclosure
A goat grazes in its enclosure on Wednesday in the Brule River State Forest.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

Getting rid of buckthorn is not as easy as cutting it. Seeds can sprout years later, so land managers, whether it’s a garden or a state forest, have to keep coming back year after year.

Experts from the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources advise removing berry-producing plants first, then returning to remove smaller plants.

Herbicides, such as Ortho Brush-B-Gone and Roundup, work when sprayed on a cut stump of buckthorn to kill the root. Products containing triclopyr amine, triclopyr ester, and glyphosate kill buckthorn roots, but they also kill just about anything they touch.

Share.

Comments are closed.