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Mark Twain National Forest Looking To Goats To Continue Forest Improvement

Goats grazing in a pasture at Mark Twain National Forest infested with the invasive species Sericea 12-25-19
USDA Forest Service

ROLLA - Kudzu and other invasive plants are threatening parts of the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri’s Ozarks, and goats might be part of the solution.

In 2019, the National Forest Service started a pilot program to use small herds of goats in certain sections of the 1.5 million acre forest to clear out invasive plant species.

"It’s very promising, because they will eat anything,'' said Deputy Forest Supervisor Tony Crump.

Crump said while promising, the experiment was done on a very small scale. The project will expand in 2020.

The concern, Crump said, is that since goats have a voracious appetite and they aren’t very picky, forest officials need to keep them limited to areas where invasives have taken over, and away from plants that are helpful to the forest’s health.

“We want to see how that can be used. Because that would be another tool in our toolbox that we could utilize and it might have some outcomes that are very valuable to us in ways that we don’t understand yet,” Crump said.

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The goat experiment was one program in a year of record forest restoration, Crump said.

Prescribed burns were very successful, he said, to clear out some tree stands that were populated by old trees that are susceptible to problems.

“Many of our tree stands, especially some oaks, were planted in large numbers about 70 years ago, and left alone for decades,” Crump said. “Many of those trees are all the same age and they are getting toward the end of their lifetime. As they get older they do become more impacted by disease and other forest health issues, like bugs and fungus.”

In addition to the prescribed burns, the forest has increased selective logging to thin out some areas.

“It makes the forest healthier and helps provide some income for our management projects,” Crump said. “A healthy forest equals healthy watersheds. And as a direct ecosystem is a benefit that we all take away from those forests and is valuable to us.”

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Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.