Using Goats to Keep Balds Intact

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Last month the Bristol, TN Herald Courier published an article that discussed a new management technique for keeping the balds on Roan Mountain intact. The article stated that the Appalachian Trail Conservancy had just announced that they will be testing the use of a small herd of angora goats this summer in order to maintain the grassy balds at Round Bald, Jane Bald, Grassy Ridge and Hump Mountain.

“It’s very expensive keeping the balds open,” said Julie Judkins from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. “We’ve tried a number of different management techniques. We have done mowing when we can, although it’s very expensive and there are a lot of rocks. We have tried grazing before, but access for cattle is limited, and then you have to think about water and fencing and how to keep that stuff maintained.”

Although goats and cattle have similar management issues, goats are much easier to manage due to the smaller scale. While on the mountain, the goats will be kept in portable, solar-powered paddocks about the size of an acre. Once the unwanted vegetation in an area is consumed by the herd, the corrals will be moved to a new spot. Volunteer goat herders will be needed to haul water and keep watch over the herd throughout the summer.

Assuming the test at Roan Mountain is successful, what do fans of the two balds maintained in the Smoky Mountains (Gregory and Andrews) think? Would the use of angora goats be a better alternative for maintaining these two balds as opposed to the current use of mowers and trimmers? The reason I raise this issue is due to my recent experience on Gregory Bald last month. Just days prior to our visit, the Park Service had mowed the grass and, as a result, left the trimmings on the ground. Not a big deal at all, but it did serve as a reminder that modern civilization still touches even the highest mountains. More importantly, does the noise from the mowers pose any problems for hikers? Or, would the presence of a corral of goats be such a negative that they would outweigh any of the benefits.

What’s your opinion? If the Roan Mountain experiment is successful, should the Smoky Mountains look at using a similar plan for Andrews and Gregory Bald?


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