Goats are an environmentally sustainable solution to remove invasive plant species on popular Clive Greenbelt trail.
Besides being beloved petting zoo mainstays and key participants in a curious variation of yoga, goats have clearly established themselves as valuable and useful members of the animal kingdom. Just ask the City of Clive and other supporters of the popular Clive Greenbelt.
“The Clive Greenbelt is one of the most beloved areas of Clive. It’s a symbol of the city’s ‘Distinct by Nature’ mantra and a place where we make investments that benefit the entire community,” explained Peter De Kock, the assistant city manager for Clive. “The current Clive City Council understood that invasive plant species are overrunning many areas of the greenbelt, so they challenged city staff to come up with innovative ways to manage invasive plants so native species that support wildlife and healthy ecosystem functions can thrive. That is why the council unanimously approved the current three-year project to use goats to clear unwanted vegetation in key areas along the greenbelt.”
located in pens alongside Clive City Hall and the Clive Greenbelt, the goats are arguably the most popular city employees. Especially two young ones that are guaranteed to make anyone smile. And as herbivores with four-chambered stomachs that only eat vegetation, their job is pretty simple: Eat stuff, and lots of it.
“The primary job of the Clive Greenbelt Goats is helping manage invasive plant species, like bush honeysuckle and garlic mustard. When the goats graze on forest understory plants, native plants have a chance to grow back stronger and overtake the invasive species. Clearing out aggressive invasive plants is critical to maintaining a healthy greenbelt that supports the trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers and wildlife we all love,” said De Kock. Other Iowa communities have used goats for these types of management practices, he noted.
Goats are notoriously voracious eaters, but they are browsing animals, not grazers, like sheep or cattle. Experts say goats will chew on and taste just about anything resembling a plant. However, they prefer to browse on the tips of woody shrubs and trees, broad-leaf plants, vines and weeds — all of which makes them more similar to deer. In short, their diet is varied and even includes some plants that are toxic to other animals. This is why humans have been using goats to clear unwanted vegetation for centuries.
The City of Clive first did a pilot project in 2018 with a small herd of goats and sheep, which produced favorable results in managing vegetation along three areas of the greenbelt north of Clive City Hall. In 2019, the Clive City Council decided to start a new, three-year project using a larger herd, with the goals being to manage invasive plant species, improve habitat and raise community awareness about being good stewards of natural resources. According to De Kock, the project is going well, and the goats have proven to be a popular addition to the Development and Parks and Recreation departments.
“The Greenbelt Goats are the most popular ‘employees’ in those departments and probably the entire city. They even have their own Twitter handle, @CliveGoats,” explained De Kock. “They are owned by a generous Clive family that was interested in the project. The city pays for care and management of the herd, but expenses have been minimal to date.”
The city also introduced a fun way last spring to help support the goats by working with a local artist and screen printer to design Clive Greenbelt Goats T-shirts, which can be purchased at Clive City Hall. De Kock said they have “sold hundreds” of the shirts so far and the proceeds have helped raise funds to care for the herd.
The popularity of the herd has also created other opportunities for community education and engagement on a variety of topics featuring the goats, including habitat, water and soil quality. The the Des Moines suburb released Greenbelt Goat-themed cloth masks to encourage community members to stay healthy and safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The proceeds from the sale of these masks will go to Clive’s local community services and food bank.
Despite the “other duties as assigned” arrangement the goats apparently have to deal with, their main responsibility remains clearing unwanted plants in the greenbelt.
“It is critical the herd is browsing throughout the growing season. This year, we started moving them through targeted areas in April, and depending on the weather, we will keep moving them through the early fall,” said De Kock.
The herd will likely be located in temporary enclosures north of the Clive Aquatic Center on both sides of Walnut Creek, as well as near the recently restored oxbows east of the aquatic center.
As a part of the city’s evaluation of the project, they will determine what role — if any — the use of goats will play in future mitigation efforts for invasive species. De Kock said their long-term strategy will likely require a combination of management strategies, including the use of machines, targeted herbicide applications and grazing and browsing herds.
Ultimately, he said the goal is to determine the most efficient and effective combination of these practices.
“The Greenbelt Goats have become a source of community pride and spirit. People of all ages love visiting the goats and checking on their progress, and they have become the unofficial ‘spokespeople’ for Clive on a number of Clive Greenbelt topics, like trail safety,” said De Kock.
Yontz is a freelance writer from Urbandale.