The Payson Ranger District wants to use goats to reduce fuel levels on 1,400 to 1,600 acres of forest land south and southeast of Payson.
Goats are more effective and less expensive than other options, according to John Brock, professor of ecological restoration at Arizona State University East. While some methods of clearing brush cost $450 an acre, goats only cost $173 an acre.
"It's a lot more cost-effective than the (other) choices we have," Brock said. "It's more environmentally friendly, and it benefits the forests and the goats."
Browsing goats mimic some of the effects of fire as it has occurred historically in chaparral-type vegetation. While prescribed burning has been the treatment of choice in this type of vegetation, there are inherent risks such as fire escaping and introducing pollutants from smoke.
The herbivores won't replace other methods of thinning entirely. In the deep forest, for example, prescribed burns can be conducted at a cost of $25 per acre.
"Goats would be allowed to freely browse an area (for example a ridgeline, a slope, an aspect) until the goals objectives have been met," Payson District Ranger Ed Armenta said. "They would then be moved to a new area.
Once the goals objectives have been met throughout the project area the goats would be removed."
If the project is approved, holding pens will be set up for watering and to overnight the herd. Goat herders will be permitted to camp on Forest Service lands while the goats are "working."
To minimize impacts on riparian areas and soils, goats will be actively herded. Camping and holding pens will also be monitored for soils impact and will be relocated as needed.
Goats were recently employed in the Prescott National Forest as part of a pilot project to provide a fire buffer around forest area homes. The animals came from the Navajo Reservation, where many were starving.
Since April, about 650 goats have roamed the Prescott National Forest near the community of Ponderosa Park. Munching some three acres a day, they have so far consumed a total of 280 acres.
Ponderosa Park residents contributed 550 gallons of water per day through pipelines that followed the goats wherever they went.
The Payson Ranger District is proposing the treatment of 2,300 acres, with the additional 700-900 acres of that total treated by broadcast burning. The general project boundaries are Highway 87 to the east, Payson town limits to the north, a north-south line along Forest Road 441 and a west-east line located just north of Ox Bow Estates along forest roads 1545 and 441A.
Dubbed the Payson Wildland Urban Interface Goat Project, the goal is to reduce fire risk while simultaneously developing sustainable forest conditions and restoring natural ecological systems.
A copy of the proposed action, including a map of the treatment area, is available by contacting the Payson Ranger District at 474-7900 or by mail at 1009 E. Highway 260, Payson, AZ 85541.
The public is invited to participate in the planning process.
Comments will be accepted until Dec. 12, either by phone or mail, or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.