Although Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board members want to adopt chemical-free parks, they still resort to herbicides to fight some invasive plants.
But if all goes as planned, their solution could reside in furry, hooved farm animals.
At last week’s board meeting, MPRB Commissioner John Erwin raised the idea to let goats eat invasive species within the city’s parks rather than using herbicides or pesticides.
Erwin is also a horticulturist and floriculturist at the University of Minnesota, where he’s worked for the past 25 years.
“I’m interested in growing food and increasing nutritional content,” he said. “I work on bringing new plants into the marketplace … reducing chemical use.”
Erwin said he wants parks to become chemical-free environments, which is why the MPRB has reduced its use of liquid herbicides by 98 percent in the last five years.
He said staff usually hand-pull invasive weeds and use only chemicals as a last resort. The park board is required by the state to rid parks of the invasive species.
“We don’t trust claims that chemicals are safe,” Erwin said. “Any chemical use has a negative impact on the environment.”
He said Minneapolis residents became nervous over the use of Roundup, a common chemical treatment some research suggests is not safe.
Other alternatives include mowing grass differently or using organic compound herbicides — a practice that could kill grass on top of invasive plants, Erwin said.
His solution, the use of goats, has been used at other parks in the state, most recently in the Three Rivers Park District near Plymouth, Minn., he said.
Erwin suggested the city use Goat Dispatch, a service that breeds and manages goats specifically to remove invasive weeds in parks around Minnesota.
Goat Dispatch co-owner Jake Langeslag said he started the company in 2013 after he found his pet goats were effective at battling buckthorn — an invasive species — on his 10 acres of land in Faribault, Minn.
He put his goats to work, catching the eyes of neighbors and eventually the state, Langeslag said.
He said he gave a proposal to the city of Minneapolis last fall about how Goat Dispatch would work differently in a city than its usual rural settings. For example, he said he would set up protective fences on busy trails to keep people and goats safe.
Goat Dispatch worked at about 35 different locations last year, including six parks.
Langeslag said Goat Dispatch differs from its competitors by using fewer goats over a longer time, with six to 20 goats per park for up to a month depending on the area being covered.
The cost of Goat Dispatch ranges from $600 to $1,400 per acre, depending on the type of area to be cleared, Langeslag said.
“I know that’s a pretty big range, but it really depends if it’s uphill slopes or how hard the fence is to get in and if there’s water,” he said. “There’s a bunch of different factors.”
Justin Long, MPRB assistant superintendent for environmental stewardship, oversees how the parks are maintained.
Long said he and others in the city have considered using goats since 2013.
But before the goats can come to Minneapolis parks, he said a city ordinance that bans hooved animals from staying within city limits overnight would need to be changed.
Long said a park board committee could vote on a proposal next week, but this doesn’t include the needed city ordinance change. “There’s a lot of hurdles to get through.”
If the city does change the ordinance, it could try out the goats this fall, and MPRB staff are deciding in which parks to start the program.