Wildfires are anything but foreign to the U.S., burning down millions of acres of forests, destroying entire towns and thousands of wildlife habitats, emitting dangerously high levels of greenhouse gases and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. These harsh disasters have hit close to home for millions of Americans and will only become more severe the longer we remain unaware of how to properly prevent them. Some prevention methods include removing dry underbrush, fire retardant, digging trenches to remove fuel and just regular water, but even with those solutions in our back pocket, wildfires have adapted to burn hotter, longer and faster. However, the newest weapon against fighting wildfires actually has nothing to do with technology, rather using wildlife to battle the blazes. As Lani Malmberg will tell you, goats are the answer.
In 2020, Colorado experienced its three worst wildfires ever recorded in its history, destroying over 700,000 acres (1,100 square miles) of forest and farmland. Seeing the devastation firsthand, Lani Malmberg, a farmer from Silverthorne, Colorado who received a degree in weed science at Colorado State University, co-founded the nonprofit organization Goatapelli, which trains residents on how to use herds of goats to graze over land prone to wildfires. The science behind why is quite simple. Goats have a primarily plant-based diet and will consume all types of hay, grasses, weeds and grain, most of which are dry plants and can spark a wildfire immediately if the temperature gets too high or an ender flies off a campfire. They can also reach plants up to 9 feet high on their hind legs that other mammals such as cows are unable to eat. Both of these abilities are crucial in that goats are able to remove this tall vegetation, nicknamed “fire fuel ladders”. An entire herd of goats can clear up to 4 acres of farmland per day, which has the added benefits of increasing soil nutrition from their waste and drastically reducing the risk of wildfires in that area. And with healthier soil, every acre of land can hold an extra 16,500 gallons of water that acts as a natural repellent to wildfires and prevents excess water from being wasted by aerial tankers.
Being in a state heavily impacted by wildfires, Malmberg has become increasingly popular among residents and constantly receives requests to have her goat herds clear more land. Local governments and neighborhoods have reached out to Goatapelli with larger-scale projects, including clearing vegetation from Interstate 70. Ever since its beginning in 2020, Goatapelli is exponentially garnering more support and has formed a tight-knit network of farmers who have vowed to use livestock for similar purposes. And as climate change continues to ravage our planet, Goatapelli will continue to fight for the protection of wildlife, natural land and humanity as a whole. This goes to show all of us not only the importance of taking action, but how small, personal changes can have nationwide and global impacts. Whether it be using less single-use plastic or transferring to renewable energy, any eco-friendly changes that you can make in your own life can have lasting benefits. It’s all about becoming more selfless and open-minded to change. For Malmberg, what originally started as a small project in her backyard has now grown into a nationwide organization that is saving millions of people and acres from future damage. All it took was passion, creativity and thinking beyond individual needs.