KEMPTON (AP) - Those looking to remove invasive plants may want to put down the herbicide and invest in something more natural, such as goats, as Hawk Mountain Sanctuary recently implemented.
Hawk Mountain launched a six-week study, which ended last Wednesday, to test the effectiveness of goats as a no-chemical alternative to removing Asian stiltgrass, an invasive plant that hurts the forest environment, according to Mary Linkevich, director of communication and grants at Hawk Mountain.
Goats were placed in an area of forest, not open to the public, that was packed with stiltgrass, surrounded by portable electric fencing when the study began in June, according to Linkevich. There were 16 goats used in the first attempt, 11 kids and five adults, from the state Game Commission.
The first round of goats was unsuccessful because they consisted of kids and lactating adults, according to Linkevich. Lactating goats will eat plants high in protein because it keeps them lactating, according to Frank P. Snyder, service forester at the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Stiltgrass is low in protein, so the lactating adults would not eat them, and the kids followed their parents, said Grif Griffith, a member of the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Integrated Invasive Plant Research Team.
"It's just like humans. Babies learn to eat from their parents," said Ben Vaupel, a man who is purchasing goats to keep invasive plants out of his property in Auburn.
The research team is made up of four members - summer employees Connor Mertz, 18, entering Montana State University; Lucas Wessner, 19, of Bloomsburg University; Sam Summer, 19, sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania; and intern, Griffith, 21, senior at Marshall University. They also acted as the goat caretakers.
The first set of goats were removed and replaced with four female adult goats that already had weaned their kids. The goats were from Sandra K. Miller of Painted Hand Farm, of Newburg.
Linkevich said the project should continue for another four years.
Hawk Mountain has a five-year conservation plan to treat and control invasive plants such as stiltgrass and barberry.
Last year, herbicide tactics began in the mountain area. Other tactics have been implemented such as weed whacking, hand pulling and, of course, goats. Next year, the research will continue to see which is most effective.
The goats need to be there for at least five years so all of the seeds will be gone, according to Summer.
The research team will walk around with a GPS device to track the area and find it next year to see if there are stiltgrass improvements. Improvements will be based on what percentage of stiltgrass grows back, Summer said.
The method of using goats has been used in other state parks and proven to be successful.
Miller rents out her goats to others for "mowing" invasive plants as well as aiding in stiltgrass removal research.
Linkevich said they are very open to bringing the goats back again, "but it depends on funding." Hawk Mountain received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct the research this year.
"It costs a lot to pay someone to do the herding job for the goats; otherwise, the goats are very cheap," Linkevich said.
Stiltgrass is an invasive plant that chokes out native species in forests and hurts the forest diversity.
"Not only does it hurt the forest diversity, but it also affects bugs and animals that need certain native plants to feed on," Linkevich said.
Stiltgrass spreads quickly and becomes "a forest carpet" because it leaves behind many seeds, according to Summer.
It first was documented in Tennessee in 1919, according to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
"Its introduction into the United States was accidental, likely a result of its use as a packing material for porcelain," according to their website, www.dcnr.state.pa.us.
Stiltgrass normally grows 1 to 3 feet in height and resembles "a small, delicate bamboo," according to the website.
Vaupel, 73, of Auburn, said he is buying a group of female baby goats from Miller in six to eight weeks to eat the stiltgrass on his property.