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Goats Employed by Airports to Clear Brush

Jul 09, 2013 04:17 PM EDT

A month before the deadly crash of a Boeing 777 at San Francisco International Airport, an unusual but environmentally friendly form of wildfire prevention was brought to the airport: a herd of goats.

Nearly 400 goats let loose on the west side of the airport property for two weeks in June were allowed to eat the brush that grows along the airport's perimeter.

In order to protect nearby homes from a potential fire, the area needs to be cleared each year. But because two endangered species - the San Francisco garter snake and the California red-legged frog - live in the brush, machines or humans cannot be used to clear the brush, according to the Associated Press. By using goats, the brush can be cleared without threatening the endangered species, as well as without the use of herbicides.

The goats were brought in by the company Goats R Us, a family-run business that, according to its website, uses goats as environmentally friendly vegetation management. The small business is operated by Terri Oyarzun, her husband Egon and their son Zephyr.

San Francisco International Airport has relied on the Oyarzun family's business for the past five years. It takes the goats about two weeks to eat through the brush along a 20-foot firebreak along the west side of the airport.

The service reportedly cost the airport $14,900 this year. Airport spokesperson Doug Yakel told the AP that the goats did their job well. "We're pleased with our organic process for weed abatement," he said. At least one other airport has considered using goats to clear unwanted brush. Chicago's O'Hare International Airport will reportedly hire 25-30 goats to clear brush on its property sometime this summer.

However, using goats to control vegetation at airports doesn't always end well. A goat-driven brush management system was abruptly cancelled at Seattle's Sea-Tac Airport in 2008 after only one week of operation.

"Airport managers decided to discontinue using the goats because they were, in effect, too effective," Christina Faine, an airport spokeswoman, told CNN. "Goats, indiscriminate eaters, eat everything, including the trees and native plants that we wanted to protect."

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