Way to Goat!

By Mark S. Kuhar

On April 22, Graniterock welcomed a herd of goats and their kids along with the guard dog “Baby” and her puppies “in training” at the Santa Cruz Sand Plant. The goats are being used as part of a holistic management plan to decrease the amount of non-native grasses in the area and encourage growth of natives, according to a story on the company’s blog.

The goats graze an area called Sandy Flat, which was previously a mining location at the Santa Cruz Sand Plant. During the original reclamation, the valley was seeded with Santa Cruz County’s 1990 Best Management Practice erosion-control seed mix to revegetate the area as grassland.

Unfortunately the seed mix contained a handful of non-native invasive grasses that quickly became established in the small valley and out-competed any native grasses that might have grown there.

Graniterock’s aim is to enhance Sandy Flat by encouraging the growth of native grasses and controlling non-natives with holistic management techniques. Timing is critical when it comes to grazing.

Important Factors
Other important factors that must be considered for a successful grazing regime include grazing goals, species of goat, weather, and flowering and seeding times of plant species. A first step was to monitor non-native grasses throughout the winter and early spring in order to determine when they were starting to produce seed.

It took a certain amount of prediction to decide whether there would be a second winter rainy season or an early spring, but conversations with botanists throughout Santa Cruz County suggested that an early spring was in order for 2013.

Livestock Landscape Solutions owner Ben Long supplied goats to do the grazing work. Long met with Graniterock Environmental Specialist Alex Simons to determine timing of grazing, the breed and number of goats to be used and what the duration of the project should be for optimum results.

Having both the land owner and grazer discuss project details is crucial to the success of such a project. The grazer knows what his herd is capable of doing and the owner is able to specify land management goals. Together they agreed to implement the grazing project before non-native grasses could produce viable seed. Having the goats graze before the grasses could produce seed prohibited the spread of unwanted seed.

Deciding on a Method
The method they decided on was to have the goats eat in small fenced enclosures for two to three days before moving on to the next enclosure. The goats leave behind the stubble of non-native plants stripped of their seed.

Before and during grazing, native grass seed are spread within the cell, including California poppy, meadow barely, tomcat clover, sky lupine, purple needle grass, California brome and blue wild rye.

In October 2012, Ben’s herd was hired to graze ponds within Graniterock’s Habitat Conservation Area, a 10.5-acre protected breeding and foraging ground for the federally endangered California red-legged frog.

The herd was hired to graze the tule within the ponds to maintain frog breeding habitat. By spring an extra benefit was noticed; within the enclosures, the goats had eaten native sky lupine and carex seed and that had encouraged more to flourish around the pond.

These successful results sparked the idea to use goats to graze and use native seed to enhance the grassland area. While the goats are eating and walking through their enclosure, they eat and press scattered seed into the ground and create fertilizer for the seed. Following next winter’s rains, Sandy Flat vegetation will be monitored for native species and to determine overall success of the grazing project.

With each grazing project, Sandy Flat will be returned over time to California grassland filled with native grasses and forb species. With every native grass or forb that comes back, Graniterock expects to see more native pollinators like birds, animals and insects follow to make a new home.

Climate Action Plan

On June 25, President Barack Obama released the President’s Climate Action Plan, outlining the administration’s strategy to cut carbon pollution. The initiative centers on lowering carbon-dioxide emissions generated by power plants, while encouraging improved energy efficiency and promoting the use of renewable fuels.

The plan would seemingly hit the coal industry hardest, calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to write rules limiting greenhouse gases, and discourages foreign countries from constructing coal-fired plants.

Obama, however, appears dedicated to promoting natural gas energy, safe nuclear power, and clean coal solutions in domestic and global markets, although the methods for doing so remain unclear. The Climate Action Plan includes international efforts to reduce climate change through negotiations and worldwide partnerships.

The president also made the surprising announcement that the State Department’s review of the Keystone XL pipeline is in its final stages and that he would move forward to approve the project if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” Though the president’s statement fell short of approving the permit for Keystone, many in the energy industry – recalling the State Department’s March draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which found the project would have “no significant impacts to most resources” – saw the commitment as a positive signal.

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