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Descanso Gardens gets its goats

February 04, 2004

Robert Chacon

Descanso Gardens is copying a move by the city of Glendale to be more

creative in its hiring practices. Descanso will employ goats to clear

the hillsides surrounding its property of underbrush that has grown

unchecked for more than 60 years.

The same type of underbrush-munching goats used on Glendale

hillsides will be used by Descanso as part of its plan for a

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controlled burn of 115 surrounding acres.

The goats will arrive in mid-March and stay through April,

clearing an abundance of underbrush in the chaparral-covered hills

above the gardens. The Los Angeles County Fire Department plans to do

the burn in May, and the goats will make it more manageable. The

hills above Descanso are a fire hazard, said Capt. Anthony Williams,

who oversees controlled burns for the county fire department.

"The goats can get into areas that have 50-year-old poison oak

bushes and can clear brush from steep areas too risky for our

personnel," he said.

As well as reducing the risk of a devastating fire, Descanso's

burn project also provides an opportunity to teach visitors about

fire and its natural role in the cycle of chaparral, which are native

short, sturdy shrubs.

Because the area has not burned in many years, ecologists predict

that plants smothered by overgrowth will reemerge following the

controlled fire, said Patrick Larkin, chief executive officer for

Descanso Gardens.

"The environment is much more resilient than people give it credit

for," he said, adding that oak seedlings are among the new growth

expected.

Descanso will work with fire officials to create a patchwork of

vegetation of varying ages that will contain small quantities of

combustible deadwood and different habitat sites to provide homes for

animals and birds.

Glendale's use of goats was not without problems, however. Two of

its goats were found dead by animal-control officers Dec. 26. One of

the goats had died of pneumonia, but the cause of death of the other

animal could not be determined. A third goat was taken to the

Pasadena Humane Society for medical care.

To help with the $12,000 cost of renting the goats, and to

generate community participation, Descanso has initiated an

Adopt-a-Goat program. Individuals can make a tax-deductible

contribution of $150 to adopt one of the animals, $75 to share in an

adoption, or any amount to support a goat.

"The program has generated a buzz from our members," Larkin said.

"This should make the burn project fun."

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