The deer herd that used to live in the “Deer Park” section of Webster Conservation Area has been gone for several years. Since then, vegetation, much of it invasive, has grown undisturbed.
In an experiment, the Newton Conservation Commission, which manages the conservation area, brought in 30 goats from The Goatscaping Company to nibble away at the underbrush. The goats spent several weeks in the park until early November, when the first frost hit. Jennifer Steel, the Senior Environmental Planner with the Conservation Commission, provided this report:
30 goats were delivered in October and immediately got to work. Neighbor Sean Wilder and his children saw to keeping the goats’ trough full of water. The goats saw to the munching. They were curious, friendly, and very pack-oriented. I visited them a few times, and each time found them together. I could easily lead them as a herd, so would redirect them to the most dense swaths of bittersweet. They mostly ate bittersweet, poison ivy, and blackberry, but I did notice that small oak seedlings were a real favorite of one particularly stubborn goat; despite my efforts at education and persuasion, he persisted in munching the small oaks! Given the goats’ late arrival, leaves were yellowing and dropping, but a lot of biomass was removed and that a lot of damage was done to the growing ends of the invasive vines.
Early this spring, I will walk the site with our maintenance contractor John Menard to determine what machinery he could now bring in to mow the vines down to the ground. John has been aggressively mowing the bittersweet at Norumbega with good results: he has saved many of the site’s specimen trees, and kept the bittersweet under control. John has a mower that fits on a Bobcat, so I hope he will be able to get in and finish what the goats started … at least enough to reestablish the meadow, save the specimen oak trees, expose the ledges, and allow us to consider creating some trails.