BY LYLE KENDRICK
Takoma Park is poised to restrict herbicide and pesticide use throughout the city. The Safe Grow pesticide ban passed the first of two city council votes Monday, July 15. The second, final, vote is set for July 22.
Once passed, residents and the city public works department will be looking for environmentally-friendly pesticide alternatives. There are non-pesticide methods for weed control such as aeration and using vinegar – which the green-minded city already uses – but other jurisdictions across the country have turned to a four-legged solution: goats.
Controlling weeds with goats is a practice catching on all over the country as more people seek alternatives to herbicides, said Craig Madsen, a co-owner of Healing Hooves, an Edwall, Wash., vegetation management company that uses goats.
They are excellent tools for weed management, said Madsen. He uses 240 goats for 15 to 20 clients each year.
Madsen’s furry tools perform tasks from full weed removal to initial site treatment where the goats, contained within electric fences, remove part of the weeds and the client uses another method to finish the job.
Goats are particularly effective when dealing with rocky sites or areas with steep slopes that make using machinery difficult, Madsen said.
Braithwaite said the city considered goats but because of the required fenced-in area for containing a herd, the city does not have the appropriate space.
Goats are mostly used for the massive growth of invasive species, which is not covered in the ordinance proposed by the Safe Grow initiative, said Daryl Braithwaite, director of public works.
“So far it hasn’t proven to be a good fit for us,” she said. There are no current plans, then, to establish a city Goat Department, nor hire a City Goatherd.
But, that might just be a matter of time and persuasion. Madsen said goats are helping manage weeds in other urban areas throughout the country with few open spaces.
Healing Hooves works in cities, including Seattle, Madsen said.
Densely populated urban areas, however, can be challenging for goats because there are more potential liability issues and the goats need to be closely monitored, he said.
Goats not on the list
While the Safe Grow ordinance takes aim at cosmetic lawn care, the city does not have a widespread weed problem that would warrant the use of goats, said Seth Grimes, a councilman for Takoma Park.
The proposed ordinance began two years ago when Takoma Park residents Julie Taddeo and Catherine Cummings, the cofounders of the Safe Grow initiative, began contacting neighbors about the effects of pesticides and herbicides.
The ordinance bans the use of 23 products on public and private property.
Takoma Park’s department of public works is examining weed control alternatives for public education when the ordinance passes, Braithwaite said. Goats are not on the list, so far.
As the ordinance is currently drafted, herbicides would still be permitted for invasive species and on areas that are not specifically lawns. Earlier drafts, however, were stricter, and some proponents of the bill are disappointed with the current, weaker version.
Given the slim chance that there are future efforts to restore those stricter provisions, Takoma Park may yet have cause to get its goat.