by Jane Stebbins | Summit Daily News | July 6, 2001
SILVERTHORNE -Five hundred cashmere goats were expected to be transported up the service road to the Old Dillon Reservoir around 6 this morning to begin work as “veritable eating machines,” said Paul Schreiner, Summit County weed control program director.
The goats were supposed to have arrived last night but heavy rain forced their owner, Lani Lamming of Alpine, Wyo., to delay their trip.
Like locusts in a prairie wheat field, the ruminants will leave a swath in the weeds along the shoreline -and will continue to do so for about a month. It’s a relatively new method of weed eradication, and one county officials hope will save the character of the High Country before it’s too late.
Noxious weeds are hardy, non-native plants that often push out native species. They’ve taken over millions of acres of fields and meadows throughout the West forever changing the landscape, Schreiner said.
“In the next 100 years, we’ll see extinctions like the world has never seen before,” he said. “Colorado won’t be Colorado anymore. Our great-grandchildren will be left with a legacy of weeds.”
Once noxious weeds get a foothold, Schreiner said, native plants cease to grow. Subsequently, the insect population that evolved with the native grasses moves out, followed by birds and animals.
Two weeds that seriously affect the High Country include leafy spurge of which two populations were discovered earlier this summer and which Schreiner believes the county will be fighting for the next 30 years -and the seemingly ubiquitous Canada thistle. To eliminate them, the county could have used bulldozers or herbicides but instead chose goats and insects.
The area most affected in the county is around the north, south and west shores of Lake Dillon, where the goats will spend the next month. The county chose not to use heavy equipment to eliminate the weeds because the machines cause so much environmental damage. And Denver Water, which owns the reservoir and its water, doesn’t permit herbicide application within 50 feet of its shores.
The goats were, well, a natural.
The cashmere goats are voracious eaters, consuming weeds down to the ground. Because they chew their food so thoroughly, Schreiner said, only 3 percent of the seeds make it through the goat’s system; within three summers, goats can slow down the spread of thistle and help native plants regain their status in the ecosystem.
A few lucky goats will get the opportunity to travel aboard a “party barge” pontoon boat to some of the islands around Frisco Bay to eliminate weeds; Schreiner will also use insects -he calls them “biocontrol” -to eliminate other noxious weeds species.
Days of eating spiky purple flowers lie ahead for the goats. Goat-herding dogs will be ever on the ready for predators such as coyotes, bear or domestic dogs.
Dogs, Schreiner said, are the biggest threat for the goats, and pet owners are reminded of the temporary trail and bike path closures in the area along the Dam Road. An informational hike to Old Dillon Reservoir will be held 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday for those interested in watching the goats at work.