For the first time ever, Metro Vancouver Regional District will use livestock grazing to help maintain its regional parks, specifically targeting invasive species.
Last month in a meeting, the regional district’s board of directors approved a $150,000, three-year program that will use goats and possibly sheep and cows to provide a greener solution to tackle these plants.
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“Invasive plants are non-native flora that can damage infrastructure, threaten property and recreational values, reduce crop yields, increase public health and safety risk, or degrade sensitive ecosystems,” reads a staff report, which notes that these invasive species will be able to adapt and possibly thrive due to climate change.
“Many invasive species are difficult to control so vegetation management professionals often turn to herbicides; however, several municipalities have pesticide use bylaws and staff are keen to find effective herbicide-free control methods.”
As there are some unknowns with this method, the project will be conducted over three phases to provide research and create a best practices baseline.
This method has yet to be tested in the region, and there is possibly a shortage with the availability of trained livestock herds. The financial costs of livestock grazing compared to existing control methods, as well as the long-term effectiveness of using herds, are unknown.
The report notes that considerations must also be given to “unintended impacts such as potential damage to sensitive ecosystems, increased erosion, and spread of seeds via feces.”
The first phase involving a consultant this year will produce a report on the feasibility and cost of livestock grazing on invasive species management. If the findings are supportive of the method, the second phase between 2020 and 2021 will conduct field tests in suitable regional parks or other sites, with residents invited to visit specific parks to see the livestock working.
The third phase, involving the consultant, would create a best practice guide for targeted invasive plant grazing.
“This project will assess the cost effectiveness of targeted grazing as an non‐chemical invasive plant control technique in Metro Vancouver,” continues the report.
“If deemed feasible and cost effective, the use of livestock for vegetation management could also support small agricultural businesses.”
The practice of livestock grazing for landscape maintenance is used elsewhere in the world. Locally, goats have been in use for many years on the grass roof of the Coombs Old Country Market on Vancouver Island. The goats live on the building rooftop between the spring and early fall months and have become a popular tourist attraction.
During the same meeting, the board of directors also approved other Sustainability Innovation Fund projects over the next two years, including $200,000 for exploring the potential of renewable energy building infrastructure, $160,000 for a net-zero feasibility study for Welcher Affordable Housing Development, $90,000 for Step Code Implementation Impacts for building envelope rehabilitation of existing buildings, $68,000 for using “eDNA” sampling technology in regional parks, $140,000 for preventing smoke emissions from agricultural waste management, $200,000 for clean air for students and schools, and $100,000 for mobile monitoring of fugitive and other industrial air emissions with “flying labs.” These projects, altogether, cost over $1.1 million.