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WSDOT enlists goats for Olympia brush project

A herd of 41 goats was put to work this week to get rid of English ivy, blackberry bushes and other vegetation near the Henderson Boulevard Southeast roundabout in Olympia.

The “weed warriors” are part of a pilot project by the Washington state Department of Transportation, which contracted with Rent-A-Ruminant of Vashon Island for the service.

“It’s basically an evaluation of this as a tool for vegetation management,” said Ray Willard, a landscape architect and manager of WSDOT’s Roadside Maintenance Program.

The goats arrived Saturday. Tammy Dunakin, who describes herself as founder, owner and chief goat wrangler of Rent-A-Ruminant, estimates that it will take the hairy four-legged crew about five days to chew up the brush and overgrowth on the nearly three-quarter-acre spot.

It’s a chunk of state property that’s been a popular location for homeless camps, Willard said. Before the goats were moved in, more than 2,000 pounds of trash was removed from the site, he said. By clearing the site, state officials hope campers will be discouraged from moving back in, Willard said.

Dunakin stays on the job site in a trailer; she charges $725 per 24-hour shift for the goats, and a $350 mobilization/transportation fee.

The state paid an additional $1,000 to erect temporary fencing around the site, which helps keep the goats in and the predators out, according to Willard.

Rent-A-Ruminant has about 130 goats and regularly contracts with government agencies, such as the city of Seattle, the U.S. Navy and Seattle Public Schools, Dunakin said. All of the goats have names and have been rescued from people who could no longer keep them, she said.

“I never slaughter, so they get a great life,” Dunakin said. “They get to eat for a living, which they love.”

WSDOT also plans to enlist the help of goats this summer for maintenance work around a stormwater pond near Vancouver and a noxious weed project near Spokane, Willard said.

He plans to prepare a report that will compare the costs of the projects using state maintenance crews with gas-powered tools versus rented goats.

One of the longer-term benefits: Goats tend to sterilize weed seed through their digestive process, which prevents new plants from taking root, according to Dunakin.

Willard said the study also will compare the environmental costs. He said he expects carbon emissions will be lower with the goats.

“Compared, I suppose, to a bit of methane,” he quipped.

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