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16.10.03

Goats versus fire

Goats Helping Cut Wildfire Risk

While forest officials looked for a way to stave off devastating wildfires this spring, hundreds of goats on the Navajo Reservation weren't getting enough to eat.

Thus a symbiotic relationship was born.

The Prescott National Forest has been using about 650 goats to eat chaparral and other brush as part of a six-month pilot project to provide a fire buffer around forest area homes.


This reminds me of a theory proposed by Tim Flannery about Australian fire. He claimed that Aboriginal burning began in earnest after the extinction of the marsupial megafauna. Fire was essentially a replacement for the megafauna, consuming vegetation and excreting nourishing ash. I disagree with Flannery's theory about the extinction of the megafauna -- he supports the blitzkreig overhunting theory, which I don't buy because (among other things) I believe the Aborigines arrived thousands of years earlier than Flannery thinks they did, thus weakening the ability to swiftly hunt the megafauna out before the Aborigines learned to live appropriately with their new environment. So I'm suspicious of his other megafauna-related theories, though I don't know that extinction due to hunting is necessary to make the "replacement by fire" theory work. There does seem to have been a change in the interaction of fire with the landscape, leading to greater alterations by human burning, around the time that the last megafauna went extinct, so it's plausible that there's a link between faunal change and fire behavior. On the other hand, the megafauna were hardly the only significant herbivores, so it's an open question how much impact their extinction had (especially since other animals could move into their niche as easily as fire could).

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