Fire abatement debate pits cows against goats

July 12, 2011 12:36:48 AM PDT
A battle over goats and cows is taking place in Walnut Creek. Cows that used to control hillside grass were removed after a hiker was injured by one. Now goats are on duty to protect 517 homes from fire in the Acalanes Ridge Open Space Region.

"Staff recommends that the pros commission support the decision to remove cattle grazing from the weed abatement strategy," supervising ranger Nancy Dollard said.

But neighbors on the ridge want the cows back on the 175 acre open space region where late seasonal rains have created taller than average vegetation.

Megan Langner raised cattle.

"I have direct knowledge of how cattle can effectively and economically eat grass to an acceptable level; I can also say they are inherently docile," Langner said.

The city is now paying $5,800 to hire a herd of goats to control the ridge line. It used to receive $2,000 a year from cattle rancher John Hoover, who paid the city to graze his cattle here.

"Why would a city already tight on funds turn down a service that would naturally take care of the need that made the open space area safe," Acalanes Ridge resident Joyce Ellis said.

But former Park and Recreation Commission member Bob Brittain says the residents are overreacting. He claims this kind of vegetation, at any height, poses little threat.

"The grasses that we're talking about here are very low fuel load, so they burn very fast; it's almost like tissue paper," Brittain said.

In the end, the commission decided unanimously that the goats were satisfying the fire districts requirements.

Whether the goats stay or if the cows come home is a decision that will be finalized by the City Council.

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