Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Elemental: Fire

When I think of fire I think of goats. It is fire season here in New Mexico and with the lack of rains, high winds and parched earth, the chance of fire increases. Add to those conditions the common practice of "controlled" burns and things can get hot quick. While fire is needed for certain seeds to germinate, and does reinvigorate dense growth, the use of preventative burns is much overused.

Why does fire bring to my mind capricious ruminants? 
Because the use of goats is a logical wildfire deterrent. They are "living fire".
Forest fires happen when old growth brush and grass becomes thick and dries. 
This happens because there are no longer enough herbivores to keep vegetation in balance.
Goats easily and happily clear such land. 

Goats prefer the woodier and more combustible plants, especially oily ones such as tumbleweed. They also prefer to move on after a time which allows the ground to recover. They are browsers, like deer. They improve the range as they go and can be positively added to land with grazers as they encourage the new growth of grass and forbes. Goats can mitigate fire danger in the short term as well as the long term when used on a maintenance basis. 

Goats remove weeds, fertilize the earth and create dimples for water penetration. The use of goats revitalizes the land removing old dry fuel and encouraging more lush species. Use of goats as a management tool prevents the fire from being able to start.

They are safe to use in riparian areas.

They do not pollute the water. Ash can be a serious problem for the soil and for water. And AIR! When controlled burns are lit the wind must be a certain speed and direction to minimize health hazards for densely populated areas since people with compromised lungs and heart are susceptible to serious health effects. People die from smoke. 

This primrose sprouted and bloomed a few days after the goats moved off the land. Ragweed did not return this season and the tamarix is devitalized each time through. As time goes on this trend continues changing the area from invasive trees to grass and perennial wildflowers.

Goats create tilth as they go. They press the stalks (carbon) into the ground and add manure (nitrogen) which begins a process which creates healthy soil.

They attract wildlife to their work areas, fire drives the life away while it works.

Goats improve insect life. Over a few years working the Galisteo Dam the numbers and size of mantids increased greatly. As more litter was added to the ground the color also changed.

Mycelium thrives with goats. Fires destroy the soil litter which is necessary for mychorrizal life.

People are enthralled by goats. Seeing them gets people out in nature. Controlled burns are dangerous by nature, remember the Cerro Grande fire in Los Alamos? That was a controlled burn gone wild. Goats gone wild do not cause at all that sort of havoc.

Living Fire is good.

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