A New Maintenance Crew in the Old Deer Park

Photo by Jennifer Steel, Newton Conservation Commission

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:

I called The Goatscaping Company in the late fall to gather basic information about logistics and cost of renting goats for invasive control. To my surprise I was told that for an end-of-season cut rate they could deliver at least 15 goats the next weekend! Yoiks! A quick reach-out to the neighbors was met with overwhelming interest and support, so I agreed to take the goats. It turned out that there was a lot of preparation needed: pokeweed that had to be cut by hand and removed (pokeweed is poisonous to goats and some goats don’t know to avoid it), all the fallen trees along the fence (i.e., potential “goat escape ramps”) had to be removed, and all the holes in the fence had to be patched, so delivery was delayed by week while the Parks and Rec tree crew removed the trees and Goatscaping fixed the fence line. Unfortunately the goats couldn’t be fenced in to just the thickest area of infestation, because The Goatscaping Company didn’t have a powerful enough power supply for the requisite containment fence.

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.