City of Prescott hires goats to counter invasive species at Magee Park

By Danielle Boos
Posted 9/21/23

PRESCOTT – At the Sept. 11 Prescott City Council meeting, City Administrator Matt Wolf reminded the council how the city has used goat management in the past to stop invasive species spread in …

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City of Prescott hires goats to counter invasive species at Magee Park


PRESCOTT – At the Sept. 11 Prescott City Council meeting, City Administrator Matt Wolf reminded the council how the city has used goat management in the past to stop invasive species spread in city parks.

In 2022, the city worked with the Coulee River Trails organization to sign the memorandum of understanding for the improvement of Magee Park. They wanted vegetation management, but didn’t want to use chemicals and other intrusive methods since chemical usage would result in runoff into the Mississippi River and would need to be reapplied annually. They entered a contract with Diversity Land Works, LLC and per recommendation began using goat management to try to treat specifically for buckthorn and other invasive species.

“The idea is then to try to do the second round of this goat grazing,” Wolf said.

He said this year the overall cost of goat management would be $6,500 and then introduced Israel Haas, a volunteer with the Coulee River Trails organization, to speak on the plan. But first Alderperson Pat Knox shared his thoughts with the council.

“My concern would be the timing of this for this season being that those leaves are about to fall anyway on that buckthorn and things like this, and my understanding of doing this would be a better thing to do in the spring or early summer to stop the growth and kill the plants or push them back,” Knox said. “Whereas doing it now, the plants have already built up their root system for wintering over and are going to shoot back next year and these goats don’t eat the plants, they eat the leaves if I’m correct. So, I would advise against this, unless we could get some more information to be more specific about this because my concern would be that these goats just have some free time and somebody’s trying to sell us some goat time that’s not to our good advantage.”

Wolf answered, “I guess I’m not a goat grazing expert, but I believe it’s the opposite.”

“Neither am I,” Knox chimed in.

“We did this the same time last year in September,” Wolf reminded the council.

Alderperson Maureen Otwell said City Planner Carter Hayes recommended that the goats graze in both spring and fall for two to three years.

“I just took it that he had done the research on when was the best time,” Otwell continued. “I mean I can’t become an expert in goats so I’m relying on Carter and Israel to tell us when the best time is to get the goats in.”

Mayor Rob Daugherty asked if Haas had any comments.

“So disclaimer, I am not a goat contractor and I’m not an ecologist, but from my experience in working with the goat contractors, including Diversity Land Works, the ideal times to get it (buckthorn) is early spring and mid to late fall. Because it’s invasive, it has a longer growing season. It’s the first to sprout leaves, it’s the last to lose leaves. So, everything will still be green in the park, that’s buckthorn. We have worked with them in the past at Freedom Park. We brought in goats end of September beginning of October and that was still effective from an ecological standpoint.”

He added that from what he understands they advise both spring grazing for early growth and fall.

City Clerk Rashel Temmers questioned Haas, “Do the goats stay there 24/7 to eat? Is anybody keeping a count on the goats?”

She added people have had bear sightings and she wondered if the city would be liable for the goats.

Haas said the goats stay there 24/7 and while he also heard about the bear sightings, the city is not liable if anything would happen to the goats. 

“We are not liable for the goats and there are goats that are predated every once in a while, sometimes they die of other causes. That wouldn’t be on us. That would be something that the goat contractors would have to deal with. We wouldn’t have to clean up the mess in that kind of a situation and goats tend to stay very close to each other so in terms of escaping and terrorizing the neighborhood, that likely wouldn’t happen,” he explained.  

Temmers clarified that she isn’t worried about the goats “terrorizing the neighborhood,” she’s worried about bears finding the goats.

“That’s possible,” Haas said. “In Diversity Land Works and other goat contractors they do have predation that happens on a regular basis.”

Otwell asked Haas, “Does the herder stay out there overnight with them?

Haas said no, while Daugherty informed the council the goats have an electric fence around them.

Haas said last year they put a fence around 13 acres and brought in some larger goats, which keep the coyotes and other similar animals away.

“Those goats are big enough that they’ll head off on that kind of attack, but bear attack, that’s a different deal,” he said.
Wolf questioned if the goats are eating the leaves.

Haas replied, “They’re eating everything. So, they’re eating the leaves and they are also stripping the bark. So that’s where the power comes in, they’ll strip the bark and essentially then keep the nutrients from being able to go up and down. It strips the phloem and the outer portion of the plant.”

He said this is a little later than they arrived last year, as they had come at the end of August and stayed for three to four weeks.

“The nice part about this season is that if we get volunteers in and trim and cut fruiting buckthorn, the goats eat the berries and the seeds can’t propagate.”

Alderperson Lindsey Owens asked for clarification.

“So you just need to bring in goats three years and then you don’t have a buckthorn problem? You have to do it every year?” she asked.

Haas said no, but added the goats significantly “knock back” the buckthorn, especially if other Magee Park plans are completed.

“That comprehensive plan, once we start getting people in there and creating trail, we’ll also manage the buckthorn problem with volunteers,” Haas said. “After enough cuttings there’s no nutrients left in the root to be able to fruit the plant and the plants will die but it is an ongoing problem. Goats last year, they made a huge dent in the population of invasive species on this in that 13-acre section.”

Aside from alderpersons Bailey Ruona and John Peterson who were absent, the council unanimously approved the contract with Diversity Land Works LLC for $6,500.

Diversity Land Works LLC, goats, Magee Park, Prescott City Council, Prescott, Wisconsin