To Save Money, California Turns to the Goats

When extreme overgrowth and underbrush behind a California courthouse threatened the risk of fires, the cash-strapped state knew it had to act -- and act quickly.

But the state didn't turn to the local fire department or bring in landscapers. Instead, officials hired a herd of goats.

The decision meant a cost-saving to taxpayers over hiring manual labor and proved to be better for the environment than bulldozers, argued the General Services Administration (GSA).

“They were tickled and impressed with the idea,” said acting Regional Administrator Jeffrey E. Neely, of GSA’s Pacific Rim. “The clerk of the Court watched the goats depart and said she’d be happy to see them back again — the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

The unusually wet winter and spring caused the overgrowth behind the Richard H. Chambers U.S. Courthouse in Pasadena, which, in California, always means the risk of summer wildfires and grass fires because of tinder underbrush.

Goats are an efficient vegetation management tool, costing thousands less than human laborers would and taking three days rather than a week for manual labor -- with few side effects. Unlike bulldozers, used historically for the annual project, goats control brush and weeds without disturbing the grass and soil. They also do not pollute or leave synthetic chemicals that could run off into lakes and streams or be ingested by other animals.

Before deploying the animals to the courthouse, GSA reached out to neighbors to let them know about the herd of four-legged critters.