The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)

Animals clear 2.5 acres of invasive plants in state park

Animals to clear 2.5 acres of unwanted greenery

- By Clare Dignan mdignan@hearstmedi­

Birds chirp, bees buzz and goats say “maaa” in a New Haven park.

The three goats — Cinnamon, Brooklyn and Iris — now living at Edgewood Park have been brought to the there to clear a section of invasive plants by eating everything in their sight. The park has a plant problem, but goats are the “maaa-gic” solution it seems.

“The Japanese knotweed is like candy for them,” said Mike Uhl, Friends of Edgewood Park board member and, now, goatkeeper. “They will selectivel­y find the Japanese knotweed. So, there were other plants that were around, plenty of them have leaves, but the goats preferred that.” The Japanese knotweed is only one of the invasive plant species on a laundry list that the goats are going to remove.

The goats are here for one thing — to eat. They’ll clear 2.5 acres of invasive plants, such as Japanese honeysuckl­e, multiflora rose, Asiatic bitterswee­t, porcelain berry and poison ivy.

“Their favorite food is everything people don’t really want,” said Larry Cihanek, an owner of Green Goats farm in Rhinebeck, N.Y., where they specialize in providing the animals for “goatscapin­g,” in which the goats clear an area by eating the invasive or excessive vegetation.

“Our goats eat for a living,” Annlilita Cihanek, of Green Goats, said. “We think they’re living the American dream.”

In the first year, the goats will eat 80 percent of the invasive plants in their 2.5acre enclosure and throughout the second year they will polish off their work by stressing the roots systems on the plants so much they can’t grow back. They are free 24/7 to roam their buffet behind the tennis courts and around most of Iris Pond.

“The plants will come back during the summer, but the goats are gonna eat them and really stress their roots so much that next year, there’s only gonna be a little bit that comes back,” Uhl said. Japanese knotweed is one plant that’s been particular­ly problemati­c for Connecticu­t, growing everywhere and being very difficult to remove because the plant can survive almost any conditions.

“The goats will stay until there’s nothing left to eat,” Larry Cihanek said. “The plants will continuall­y try to grow and our goats will continuall­y try to eat them.”

Normally, they’ll eat for a half an hour to an hour and a half, and “then they’re gonna take a nice long break, kind of like Thanksgivi­ng,’ Uhl said. Once the food moves through all their stomach chambers, they’ll start all over again.

The goats are already seeing a number of volunteers bringing them water and checking in on them daily, signing up on the Friends of Edgewood park website. Annlilita Cihanek said there’s a community that seems to form around a goat pen in every park that has a goat.

“When we come into an area, the only time many people have seen a goat is at a petting zoo,” Annlilita Cihanek said. “They’re concerned about goats living outside, but don’t think about how goats actually live. In the summer, that’s where they want to be. If they had a dream life, they would be let out into pastures and woods.”

“The amount of exposure people have to animals and to the outdoors is very limited,” Uhl said, “so coming to the park can feel unsafe or insecure and there’s something about animals that, I don’t care what walk of life you’re in, but with these animals people tend to say ‘that’s kind of fun.’” So having them in the park makes Edgewood a good entry point to exposing people to animals.

Goats are really good at their job, too. They are one of the few animals that will eat just about anything and have a low ecological impact on the area. Other options for clearing such areas are using heavy machinery or herbicides, which can be damaging to all surroundin­g greenery or illegal.

“The second biggest threat to Connecticu­t’s natural environmen­t is invasion by alien plants and animals,” according to the Connecticu­t Invasive Plant Working Group. “With few natural enemies, these species grow, spread, and multiply so fast they can transform healthy ecosystems into weedchoked woodlands and waterways in just a few years. Worse, many of our native plants and animals are deprived of light, nutrients and ultimately their continued existence. Collective­ly, invasive species are a silent but serious environmen­tal problem for which Connecticu­t is not prepared.”

Moreover, the goats won’t spread the seeds through their droppings because a goat’s digestive system is so aggressive that any seeds they ingest can not germinate. So when the plants get eaten up, they’re gone for good, Larry Cihanek said.

The goats will live in the park until late fall, before frost is a concern, but will return next year in the spring once the nights get warm enough. Initially, five goats lived in the park but Larry and Annlilita Cihanek said they were eating up too quickly. “We don’t want them to run out of food during the summer, he said, so they will manage the number of goats and may put more back.

Anyone is welcome to visit the goats, but don’t feed or pet them because they walk around in poison ivy, Uhl said.

“They’re kind of lovable and fun to watch,” he said.

 ?? Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Goats eat invasive plants in a 2.5 acre section of Edgewood Park in New Haven on Thursday.
Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticu­t Media Goats eat invasive plants in a 2.5 acre section of Edgewood Park in New Haven on Thursday.
 ??  ?? A sign advertises goats brought into Edgewood Park in New Haven to eat invasive plants.
A sign advertises goats brought into Edgewood Park in New Haven to eat invasive plants.

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