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Energy & Environment

How Wausau uses goats for weed control

Wausau Goats
Wausau/Marathon County Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Director Jamie Polley
Some of the goats brought to Wausau by Liberation Farmers LLC in Almond, WI to eat invasive species on Barker Stewart Island.

The Wausau Public Health and Safety Committee has approved a change to the city’s forbidden animal ordinance to allow goats in city parks in a weed control capacity.

City and County Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Director Jamie Polley says last year’s experiment with the animals went over so well that they’d like to make the method a part of their toolkit when it comes to weed control.

“We do feel it was successful, and this year we may have more vegetation coming up but we do feel [the goats] made an impact,” said Polley. “Talking with other communities, this is a multi-year thing. Invasive species are very, very hard to get rid of so this is something we will have to continue to do.”

Other cities like Madison have made goats a part of their weed control plan as well. Mayor Katie Rosenberg adds that she received phone calls about the method from several other communities as well.

Alder Lisa Rasmussen, who was also voted as the committee’s chair for the next two years, said many of her residents appreciated the uniqueness of the idea and the fact that the city was able to find a way to control the noxious weeds without using herbicides.

This year’s plan calls for the goats to be deployed to smaller sections of the park at a time. Last year they were given nearly half of the park to chew on, which Polley admits led to some of them snacking on things that they shouldn’t have including some sections of fence and some tamarack trees which will be replaced and fenced off before the goats arrive this summer.

The primary goal is to reduce the amount of buckthorn and honeysuckle on the island, which Polley says was beginning to take over the park. The department mowed some of it down in the fall of 2020 before the goats were brought in last summer, which she said helped but she also notes that this is going to be a multi-year process. Fortunately, the goats don’t mind.

“Goats are very picky [eaters] and they like those real woody plants which happen to be the invasive ones,” she said.

Polley added that her department is only planning to deploy the goats to Barker Stewart Island this year. Though the change does leave open the possibility that they could be sent to other parks if the need arises in future years.

Last year the goats worked for a few weeks and were part of an educational petting zoo held in the downtown 400 Block, which would also be allowed this year and any other year that the animals are hired by the city as part of the ordinance change.

The measure now goes to the full city council next week for final approval.

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