Pittsburgh parks embrace unlikely heroes

By: Rebekah Devorak | Opinions Editor 

Get ready to say goat-bye to all those weeds, thorns and leaves clogging up your favorite Pittsburgh parks.

The Pittsburgh City Council voted unanimously on March 15 to hire ten goats – and their botanical bodyguard, a miniature donkey named Hobo – to clean up extra intrusive plants in three of the city’s parks this summer.

Each of the goats is a member of Steel City Grazers, a goat-for-hire business that opened in 2015 and is the only one of its kind in Pittsburgh. While it may seem a tad strange to watch goats hobbling around and munching on the foliage of Highland Park, Emerald View Park and West Penn Park, this is one instance where going old-school is an innovative approach to keeping green spaces clean and safe.

Summertime is the seasonable sweet spot when everyone wants their park or garden to be meticulously manicured. Typically, any unwanted weeds are hacked away with machinery. By allowing goats to lunch on the annoying vegetation, it cuts down on gasoline consumption and fume emissions, along with lowering the risk of personal injuries from wielding weed-whackers, lawn mowers, chainsaws and hedge trimmers in public places.

Believe it or not, Forbes reports that there are over 37,000 injuries and deaths each year just from lawn mowers alone.

But what will be an even more substantial improvement is the obvious decrease in the use of herbicides. Whatever can’t be reached by machine is doused in chemicals, and some of the most popular herbicides used are actually some of the deadliest, too.

According to Scientific American, glyphosate is the most widely-used herbicide in the United States. If glyphosate doesn’t sound familiar, its brand name will: Roundup. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that over 100 million pounds of it are used on farms, lawns and parks each year.

Now, the herbicide itself is not inherently deadly. But when it is mixed with other ingredients found in Roundup – the solvents and preservatives added referred to as “inerts” – the chemical concoction can kill human cells. A study conducted by the University of Caen in France showed that the herbicide can suffocate embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells even at levels “much more diluted” than those used in parks.

The study also says that the herbicide can interfere with hormone productions, leading to birth defects, low birth weight and even miscarriages. But you don’t need to be pregnant to be affected. According to a separate study conducted by Texas A&M University, exposure to herbicides can produce symptoms such as rashes, nausea, headaches, seizures and even death.

Either way, it’s not exactly a fun day spent at the park.

There are even more benefits to using goats on top of these: decreased insecticide use, natural fertilization and the restoration of “forest ecology” as Danielle Crumrine of Tree Pittsburgh, an initiative to regrow urban forests, said.

The goats can eat virtually any plant without harm to them or to the environment. That even includes poison ivy. Not only will you not have to shell out for the industrial-sized calamine lotion, but you can also stroll through Highland Park without trying to remember whether poison ivy has three leaves or four.

Pittsburgh isn’t the only town hopping on the billy goat bandwagon. Cities like Boston, Houston and Minneapolis have also hired the four-legged creatures to keep Mother Nature under control.

But even more parks and recreation departments across the nation should consider this alternative method. It doesn’t take much effort besides rounding up a few goats and unleashing them on the terrain.

It’s inexpensive, it’s natural and, let’s face it, it’s adorable. The same can’t be said for pesticides.

3 Responses to "Pittsburgh parks embrace unlikely heroes"

  1. Judith Koch  April 5, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    Thank you for this really great article! Goats can be so useful, and can work on hillsides where volunteers can not go! One little request: could you change the name Emerald Park into it’s official name Emerald View Park? Thank you!

    • The Duquesne Duke
      The Duquesne Duke  April 5, 2016 at 4:41 pm

      Thanks for catching that Judith — we’ve corrected the mistake in the article.

  2. Jake S Milofsky  April 5, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    Great article! Decreased use of pesticides is a fantastic reason to use goats and your research really helps make this argument. Hopefully this project helps Pittsburgh set a precedent to bring goats back as a viable form of vegetation management in the modern world.

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