Goats may someday reduce riverside brush at UWRF

Posted March 22, 2022

UW-River Falls is considering using goats to help clear up areas along the Kinnickinnic River, the south fork of which flows through campus.

The grounds maintenance team wanted to take a more natural approach to clear out invasive or non-native plants. Instead of using herbicides, the team sought out another way to clear the spaces. However, due to the limited number of grounds staff, it was not feasible for them to spend all day, every day, gutting and clearing out as much as possible.

The visibility and accessibility of the Kinnickinnic River not only for the UW-River Falls campus but for the community became a priority for Grounds Supervisor Jennifer Allen. Specifically, she noticed how the amphitheater looked, along with access and visibility to the river.

“I was just curious about ways we could go about maybe making the river more visible from the University Center, more accommodating when we have the outdoor concerts here at the theater,” Allen said. “I know it’s a very valuable resource to not only the university but the community.””

Several years back, an idea came to Allen after a landscape project brought her to St. Paul. The Minnesota capital city hired goats to help clear out brush on steep hillsides along Highway 10 and and Interstate 94 interchanges.

Goats are not picky eaters and will consume everything from wild parsnips to buckthorn and weeds. The goats would be brought in and would freely roam around in a specific area.

“They certainly don’t eat big trees,” Allen said. “They’re not going to mow those down, but if they can help get rid of some of the brush and the scrap and maybe some of the grasses and things in the area, then we can go in and selectively prune and clear out some of the dead trees or the damage that’s in there and really clear out the space.”

The COVID-19 pandemic halted efforts to bring goats onto campus. Then, in December, a student in the sustainability office presented the idea to Chancellor Maria Gallo. Allen was optimistic that Gallo’s approach to sustainability would get the conversation moving.

Facilities Director Alan Symicek said he would like to see a proposed management plan for the specific area.

“We’d be having animals do that versus using a tractor with a big mower or something like that or, you know, saws and things like that. So, I’m certainly so supportive of that,” said Symicek.

Another idea presented by Allen would be using goats already on campus at Mann Valley Farm. However, Campus Farm Director Greggory Zwald said he is not willing to have campus goats be used. Although, if the farm had more goats, Zwald would be open to it.

Allen and her team are optimistic that the project will get the go-ahead in a few years.