A herd of goats has taken over Thatcher Park this week, clearing weeds and invasive species in the wooded area

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Madsen's Boer and Kiko goats took a morning break Thursday under the Thatcher Park trees. Matt Baum has been searching for a way to tame the overgrown urban forest in Forest Grove's Thatcher Park since he became parks supervisor at the city's Parks & Recreation Department last year.

His staff lacks the manpower to clear the area themselves. City ordinances prohibit a controlled burn. And a work crew hired to clear the more than 10 acres of forest floor would be too expensive.

As Baum pondered solutions, the underbrush continued to grow out of control as invasive species such as Himalayan blackberry and English ivy took over, crowding out native plants and robbing nutrients from trees.

Then Baum thought, "Why not goats?"

He had seen goats clear acres of land efficiently when he worked in California on a federal fire fuel-reduction crew.

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - On the left is land in the Thatcher woods untouched by the goats. On the right is land the goats have given a thorough chomp.

"The goats moved at least as fast as a 20-person crew," Baum said.

On a tip from a colleague, he contacted eastern Washington farmer Craig Madsen, who arrived in Forest Grove the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend with 220 goats. The ruminants have been steadily chomping away at weeds, blackberries, ivy, poison oak, holly, hemlock, knapweed and more. "If it's a weed you see around town," Baum said, "it was flourishing in those woods."

These Bovidae (the scientific name for the goat family) aren't picky about what they munch and Madsen expects his crew to finish clearing the area by this weekend.

Madsen has been running his goat land-clearing business for the last 15 years. When his career with the Natural Resources Conservation Service turned mostly into office work, he decided he needed a change. He, too, thought, "Why not goats?"

Madsen is on the road five months out of the year, bringing his goats across the Pacific Northwest, hired by cities, counties, homeowners associations, parks departments, colleges and for fire prevention for about $750 a day. NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Gigi, a Aukbash Komondor guard dog, watches over Madsen's goat flock at all times.

It's important to clear up the forest, Baum said, not only because invasive, overgrown brush robs nutrients from trees and makes it difficult for them to reseed, but also because a forest floor thick with underbrush increases the risk of fires in the hot, dry summer.

Such a thorough clearing will curb most of the overgrown plants, including ivy. Because blackberries grow so fast and roots run so deep, that species will take a little more work even after the goats wipe out the brambles above the ground.

After the first wave of goat clearing, the Thatcher woods will be much easier to maintain, Baum said.

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - When one goat headed to a new part of the forest, the others followed.The Forest Grove job has been pretty smooth, Madsen said. The electric fence keeps the goats from escaping and onlookers have been respectful of them. In other places, he's had teenagers open the fence and let them out.

Worse, Madsen has had people feed the goats rhododendron and azalea leaves, not knowing those plants are poisonous. He's lost almost as many goats to human error as he has to predators.

At first suggestion of bringing in goats, Madsen said people laugh most of the time. But then they see what goats can do.

"They clear out nearly everything," Madsen said. "And they do it in a relatively short amount of time."

By Stephanie Haugen
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times
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NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - The goats enjoyed the selection of food in the Thatcher City Park woods.

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - A herd of 220 goats rested for bit in Thatcher Park after a long week of eating.

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