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Environmentally friendly alternative: Goats tackle invasive species continuing KISMA project

Goats tackle invasive species continuing KISMA project

Aidan Reilly/For the Mining Gazette KISMA team member Olivia Hohnholt observes the goats during one of the “Greet the Goats” events June 16.

SWEDETOWN — Goats returned to Calumet this month as the Swedetown Trails get a helping hand in tackling invasive species management.

For the second year in a three-year study, Keweenaw Invasive Species Management Area has partnered with Regenerative Ruminants, a project from Drifty Acres farm out of Poplar, Wisconsin. Farmers Jake and Brigid Williams brought 70 goats this year in their effort to reduce the impact of glossy buckthorn.

Regenerative Ruminants is a prescribed grazing project that has been servicing projects in Northern Wisconsin for several years now, as an alternative to herbicide treatment and an invasive species removal method.

Brigid said the impact of last year’s work at Swedetown was evident on their return.

“It’s our first time on a glossy buckthorn job, versus common buckthorn, and the glossy is definitely beat down more by the goats. It doesn’t respond as well, which is a good thing. Good thing for us bad thing for the buckthorn,” she said.

Goats were cordoned off to a four-acre section just below the Swedetown Chalet, additional plots overrun with glossy buckthorn are monitored by KISMA members for control purposes and alternative eradication methods to determine the overall effectiveness of the goats.

“No way we could have gotten as much acreage as we have so completely without the goats, we do a lot of manual control, hand pulling, clipping…covering four acres and getting all of the saplings … wouldn’t have been possible on such a big scale with just human hands,” said KISMA team member Emily Klaywiter.

Though the study will require the full three years to develop results, the impact of a two-week grazing period last summer significantly reduced the rebound of glossy buckthorn in the goats path this season.

Swedetown volunteer Cynthia MacDonald said they were excited about the presence of the goats.

The Swedetown recreation area has over 30 miles of ski trails and 30 miles of bike trails. Teams of volunteers aid in maintaining the trail system, but the presence of goats has been a boon to the management of the buckthorn, which tends to grow thickly over disturbed areas.

“This invasive buckthorn is not throughout the 2,000 acres, but there’s hot spots of it and we want to keep it from taking over the whole thing while we can still try and manage it. And so this is a research project to see if grazing ruminants can help,” MacDonald said.

The goats drew out crowds last Saturday morning, while KISMA and the Williams were on-hand to help explain the scope of the project. Though the animals hungrily devoured the buckthorn in their path, Brigid explained the goats are just one step in the direction of total management.

“Goats are just kind of a tool in the toolbox of management for buckthorn remediation. They’re best suited for an area that is almost entirely buckthorn in the understory, because they’ll eat everything. You get the goat army in here to mow everything down for a few years and then management continues on a hand pulling, maybe herbicide treatment, spot treatment kind of way, because there’s still the seeds all in the soil so they’re going to keep popping up.”

Over the project, KISMA will continue to assess the effectiveness of the ruminants’ buckthorn management and prescribe additional management.

Sigrid Resh, KISMA coordinator and Michigan Technological University researcher assistant professor, said that native species in the area don’t eat the buckthorn.

Resh added that the plants people bring into their gardens at home can also impact the native environment.

“Japanese barberry, that’s used as a landscaping species, can still be bought at places like Walmart,” Resh said. “Those are escaping your yard and coming into our forests and changing the habitat.”

Resh recommended replacing invasive plants in gardens with native species.

The National Park Service encourages the public to report glossy buckthorn bushes within parks. They also encourage owners to remove glossy buckthorn bushes on private property, in order to decrease the overall amount of the buckthorn and its impact on our natural resources. Visitors to national parks should avoid disturbing the buckthorn’s bushes when it’s flowering or has fruit, as this could lead to seed dispersal and further spread the invasive species.

Landowners should also plant native shrubs, trees, and flowers on their land instead of non-native and invasive species.

The goats wrapped up their stint at Swedetown last week, but the work continues for KISMA.

You can find more information about their upcoming events including boat washes at area boat launches and learn more about their partnership with Go Beyond Beauty, a statewide initiative to celebrate garden professionals who commit to removing high risk invasive species from the area.

In August, KISMA will be offering Japanese Barberry exchanges. Go to their website www.mtu.edu/kisma for more information on invasive species management in the Keweenaw.

Daily Mining Gazette intern Mary Christine Stevens contributed to this report.

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