Parks' Weeds Finally Get Montgomery's Goat

By Cameron W. Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 28, 2005

Never mind blades, chemicals or plain old pulling. The stewards of Montgomery County's parks are bringing in the big guns in their war against weeds: goats.

Next week parks officials will invite 15 goats to Sligo Creek Stream Valley Park in Silver Spring and put them into quarter-acre lots rich in what naturalists call "highly invasive non-native plant species," otherwise known as weeds from abroad.

"What we're trying to do is to see what they'll eat," said Geoffrey Mason, a Montgomery parks official overseeing the experiment.

"The rougher the weeds, the more they like them," said Brian Schiner, co-owner of the Wagon Wheel Ranch in Mount Airy, where the goats-for-hire reside when not on assignment.

There is no doubt that the goats, a South African breed called Boer, noted for their brown eyes and gentle faces, will be ravenous. They are bucks that have just emerged from several weeks among the does. The bucks "lose weight when they're breeding," said Schiner. "Because they run around so much."

For those who would like to join the goats in ridding the parks of unwanted flora, Montgomery offers its "weed warriors" program, in which volunteers are trained in the recognition of Devil's Tearthumb, Japanese Stilt Grass, Porcelain Berry and other invaders.

Most of these species arrived here many decades ago, generally because someone thought it would be a useful addition to a garden or farm. Now, said Mason, ecologists rank invasive non-native species as the second most pressing threat to biodiversity after loss of habitat.

The human weed warriors work for free. Mason said four days of the goats' time will cost $2,000. And no, the county's burgeoning deer population couldn't handle this problem. "They prefer the native plants," Mason said.

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