The Unconventional Weapon Against Future Wildfires: Goats

In 2020, Ms. Malmberg co-founded the nonprofit Goatapelli Foundation to train people in how to use goats to prevent wildfires. She said that of the 200 or so participants, only a few had launched their own businesses. Start-up costs could total $360,000, Ms. Malmberg said, including equipment and the livestock, which she trains herself.

“Lani is a leading example of someone who has carved the pathway and is a trailblazer in this industry of prescribed grazing,” said Brittany Cole-Bush, one of Ms. Malmberg’s mentees and the owner of Shepherdess Land and Livestock in Ojai Valley, Calif. “We want to support ecology as much as possible. We want to support the growth of native perennial grasses.” Ms. Cole-Bush, who uses goats and sheep in her business, believes that fortifying perennial grasses, rather than planting grass annually, will make the land more tolerant of drought.

Ms. Malmberg, who has a master’s degree in weed science from Colorado State University, spends most of the year traveling around the West on jobs. Last year, for the first time, the Bureau of Land Management contracted Ms. Malmberg and her goats for fire mitigation in Carbondale, Colo.

“We thought that the goats could achieve our objectives with their ability to work on steep slopes,” said Kristy Wallner, a range land management specialist for the bureau’s Colorado Valley field office. “It’s going to be a useful tool for us to use moving forward.”

In the rush to prevent worsening wildfires, state and local agencies that want to remove excess weeds rely on herbicides and machinery as well as prescribed burns: intentional fires that periodically clear underbrush, dead trees and other fuels.

“Because of the wildfires, more people are understanding the urgency and willing to try different tools beyond what they’re used to,” said Jenn Balch, a Goatapelli Foundation board member who plans to start a business in the Northeast that uses goats to restore meadows and overgrown recreational areas.

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