Cuyamaca College’s newest kids are on a mission.
A herd of 275 baby and adult goats are grazing on 50 acres of dry brush on the outskirts of the pastoral campus for the next six to eight weeks to mitigate a fire risk.
Oblivious to TV cameras and a pair of drones hovering overhead, the four-legged masticators -- docile and tolerant of curious humans with their cellphone cameras – were officially introduced to the public Thursday.
“Using goats will mitigate environmental impact and ensure responsible use of public funds,” President Julianna Barnes said at the media day function, where she introduced the “Goat Guy,” Johnny Gonzales, herd manager with Environmental Land Management.
At a cost of about $90,000, the goats and their human handlers and machinery are doing a job that otherwise would cost, by the college’s estimates, up to a half-million dollars by more conventional means.
“These are not your grandpa’s goats,” said Gonzalez, who said the herd has a taste for the non-native plants that have invaded the natural preserve beltway surrounding the campus. The plants’ abundance, if not mitigated, pose a fire hazard because of tinder-dry conditions.
Jim Marugg, division chief of San Miguel Fire and Rescue, praised the college for taking steps to clear the brush and returning the land to its native state. This will make way for a more efficient firebreak to protect the campus and surrounding community, he said.
“People always say ‘it’s not my backyard,’ but here in California, it’s all our backyard,” he said, alluding to the brush and wildfires that have devastated the Golden State. “This is a perfect example of Cuyamaca College taking a leadership position in creating defensible space and helping to protect all of us.”