2018-02-15 / Front Page

Goats called upon to help fight invasive

Grazing at Clay Cliffs
By Jen Murphy
of the Enterprise staff


VOLUNTEERS FOR the Leelanau Conservancy help to remove the invasive garlic mustard plants. VOLUNTEERS FOR the Leelanau Conservancy help to remove the invasive garlic mustard plants. Clay Cliffs Natural Area is being invaded, and goats just might come to the rescue.

In an attempt to control the invasive garlic mustard, the Leelanau Conservancy has proposed using four-legged ruminants to help eliminate the overbearing, non-native plant.

Leelanau Conservancy natural areas and preserves manager Becky Hill sees the situation as critical.

“Garlic mustard continues to expand its infestation at Clay Cliffs and if we do not get a handle on it soon, we may reach the tipping point of no return and lose a great amount of plant diversity,” she said.

The loss of diversity is the reason the garlic mustard must be eliminated.

“I really think about it like a wildfire. You can work on these small fires, but until you get a handle on the main infestation area you won’t solve the problem,” Hill said.


GARLIC MUSTARD plants are an invasive species and spread quickly after seeds drop in May and June. GARLIC MUSTARD plants are an invasive species and spread quickly after seeds drop in May and June. According to Hill, the management plan for Clay Cliffs that acts as an agreement between Leland Township and Leelanau Conservancy allows for conservation grazing to be considered for the invasive species management.

The practice of conservation grazing is not uncommon. It is considered to be a natural, sustainable method to control invasive plants. Usually, sheep or goats are employed for their talents of eating unwanted plants, but cattle can also be used for the task.

“I believe this (using goats for conservation grazing) is a best management practice at this point in time,” Hill said. “The area where we’d like to put the goats is beyond human manual control, either by pulling or cutting.

“The next alternative would be to broadcast spray with herbicide, and although effective, I do not like using herbicide in that type of way. I think it can be an effective tool in a selective, spot treatment way, but I do not like to use it in this broad way.”

Leland Township supervisor Susan Och is cautiously optimistic.

“It’s an experiment,” Och said. “This terrain (at Clay Cliffs Natural Area) is difficult to clear. It’s hard work, and goats like to do it.”

Och, who has worked with livestock in the past, said she is familiar with using ruminants for land management.

“Years ago, you’d use livestock to clear land. But goats are wily, and I have questions about keeping goats contained,” she said.

More typically, elbow grease, mowers, tillers or herbicides are used to remove invasive species, Hill said. “We just don’t have the manpower of doing what we need to do. There aren’t enough days in the month of May before the plant goes to seed.”

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore chief of natural resources Julie Christian said livestock use is outlined in the Lakeshore’s management plan and it would be something the government agency would consider for its land as well, particularly in the Port Oneida district.

“If it proves an effective management, it might be something we would consider,” Christian said. “We are not acting on it at this time, but it’s something we would consider.”

And although conservation grazing isn’t the cheapest method, Hill said she thinks it will be the most effective in the Clay Cliffs situation.

The goats are scheduled to arrive in May before the plants go to seed. This timing ensures seeds passing through a goat’s system would not simply replant garlic mustard in another location.

Upon arrival, the grazers will be contained in an electric fence, monitored, and enjoy eating garlic mustard for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Assisting up to 30 goats will be 4 sheep.

How long will this process take?

“This is the big question,” Hill said. “From what I have heard, garlic mustard seeds can remain viable anywhere from five to ten years, or possibly longer. If we keep at it, the population size will reduce over time, but we would still need to continue to monitor the sites for many years to come.

“We still need a ton of volunteers to help out. It’s everywhere. One plant is all it takes.”

Hill said the Conservation District is working to establish a “dump site” for invasive plants pulled by anyone. The project would be in partnership with the Invasive Species Network.

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