Waseca County is enlisting some furry, four-legged help in the fight against buckthorn.
Goats will be munching their way through 42 acres of buckthorn at Courthouse Park in the coming year. The Waseca County Board approved a one-year goat rental from Goat Dispatch in Faribault for $11,500 at its meeting Tuesday.
“Bring them hungry,” Commissioner DeAnne Malterer said after the board approved the goat rental.
Brain Tomford, the county’s buildings and grounds director, pointed out that when they researched buckthorn removal in 2018, it would cost about $200 an acre for the machinery, manpower and herbicide to remove it.
County Administrator Michael Johnson said the county could use the goats, then use herbicide on what’s left of the buckthorn. Malterer said her understanding is that using herbicide is labor intensive because it has to be painted onto the buckthorn and the entire root needs to be removed to prevent it from spreading.
The goats, on the other hand, are eco-friendly and do little damage to the soil, Jake Langeslag, owner of Goat Dispatch, told the County Board. The goats strip down the buckthorn, which then doesn’t have enough nutrients to survive through a Minnesota winter. Plus, the goats are fun for park visitors to watch, he said.
Waseca County isn’t the only one using goats as buckthorn killers. Hennepin County and several metro area cities are among the government entities who have turned to goats for buckthorn control.
The goats will have their first feeding in the park starting in June and then a second feeding that begins in October, according to Tomford. The goats will go through the park’s main section where the trails and camping are located. The goats will be fenced in and moved to a new location to graze when needed. The goats won’t be on the park trails and the trails will remain open.
Tomford noted that the native plants on the park’s northside have been entirely choked out by the buckthorn.
“It’s throughout the whole park,” he said, adding that the buckthorn is especially thick in the park’s camping area.
Once the goats finish the job, a post-grazing evaluation will analyze the damage done to the buckthorn. The county has the option to bring the goats in again after a year or two for a second round of grazing.
Tomford said the goal is to reduce the buckthorn to the point where county staff can manage it.
Commissioners are also considering future improvements to Courthouse Park. Campers, some of whom come from outside the county, usually ask if there’s electricity and water they can use in the park, Tomford said.
The county turned down Xcel Energy’s $25,000 estimate two years ago to run electricity from the caretaker’s house to the camping area. However, there’s an existing transformer in the park’s pavilion, which has lowered Xcel’s estimate to $17,000 to run electricity from the pavilion to the camping area, Tomford said.
Installing a well in the camping area would cost the county nearly $26,000, according to Tomford.
County commissioners first have to decide whether they want to invest in the park, Johnson said.
“It is a great amenity and probably our best amenity or resource from a county perspective of what we can offer constituents,” Johnson said.
The county has several different sources of funding it could use to improve the park, including capital improvements funding and from the American Rescue Plan Act, Johnson said.
Commissioner Doug Christopherson said he struggles with the idea of adding infrastructure because the county offers primitive, inexpensive camping in Courthouse Park and people can go to a campground if they want electricity and amenities.
“I don’t want to compete with our private campgrounds,” he said.