Goats key to stopping invasive weeds at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Goats key to stopping invasive plants at Hawk Mountain

ALBANY TWP., Pa. - Hawk Mountain Sanctuary has embarked on a wooly experiment this summer to rid an unwanted weed.

A team of goats is the new weapon Hawk Mountain has unleashed into the woods. The wildlife sanctuary in Albany Township, Berks County, is waging a war on a menace that threatens the overall forest ecology. The goats are leading the battle to try and destroy Japanese stiltgrass.

"The stiltgrass prevents the growth of trees that we would like to see come up and native plants that we would like to have," said Tracey Coulter, agroforestry coordinator with the Pennsylvania DCNR Bureau of Forestry.

According to officials, the invasive plant is causing a major conservation issue across Pennsylvania and up and down the northeast. The stiltgrass chokes out the native plants and tree seedlings and depletes the overall health of the ecosystem.

"It's spreading hundreds of thousands of seeds and those seeds are very tiny and they're either attached to deer, attached to our boots or to small animals," said Kelly Sitch, a biologist with DCNR Bureau of Forestry.

With support from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the sanctuary received funding for materials as well as oversight for the "Goats in the Woods" project. It is part of a six-week study as a no-chemical alternative to remove the stiltgrass. Herbicides are not only expensive, but they spread and can kill the native plants.

In the beginning, official said their plan fell flat. Another team of goats would not eat the stiltgrass, but the four goats that were brought in last Friday were hungry and ate the target.

An electronic fence was set up in the forest at an area packed with the stiltgrass.

"It looks like the goats have eaten a fair bit of the stiltgrass, and in another month when stiltgrass typically goes to seed, we'll really decide how successful it was," said Sitch.

The goats were removed from the forest on Wednesday. Officials said they may or may not return, but the fight to rid the stiltgrass will continue.

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