A herd of hungry goats is being used to tame invading plants on a greenbelt in central Iowa. Loren Lown, a natural resources specialist with the Polk County Conservation Board, says native plants in the board’s Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt along the Skunk River were being choked out by a fast-growing grove of buckthorn.

“It was planted as a hedge and wildlife cover many years ago and it’s become invasive and has taken over quite a bit of the woodland across Iowa,” Lown says. “It’s a problem because it eliminates vegetation that’s more amenable to wildlife.” The problems of invasive plant species were under control long ago when herds of bison, elk and other animals roamed what became Iowa.

Fires sparked by lightning strikes also helped keep such plants in check. Lown says goats were an obvious, chemical-free “green” solution to the buckthorn problem.

Lown says, “We tried to use goats in cooperation with private citizens who owned the goats to do a modest browsing of the timber, in other words, to remove some of the brush, the invasive brush, but to leave the desirable plants in place.” He says the goats helped to restore the greenbelt, while creating habitat for several native species, including Blanding’s turtles, which are listed as threatened in Iowa.

A couple from State Center let their 30-goat herd roam the prairie, nibbling up the buckthorn. Lown says raising and renting out goats for this purpose could be the ideal new niche market for a number of Iowa entrepreneurs. “Rent-a-Goat is a business in the Pacific Northwest,” Lown says. “I think there’s a real need for it here. In fact, the people who brought goats out to our Chichaqua Bottoms have had several private customers wanting to clear invasive shrubs out of woodland.”

The goats were used in just ten acres of the 7,300 acre wildlife area, but Lown says it made a remarkable difference, as native trees, wildflowers, birds and other creatures are again flourishing.