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EDITORIAL:Keep goats on the job

Laguna Beach city officials should think long and hard before giving the “can” to the city-funded goat herd that mows down combustibles on hard-to-reach hillsides.

As our columnist James Pribram points out this week, this is a pretty scary year for Laguna Beach, fire-wise. Southern California has had the lowest rainfall on record since the late 1800s, and it’s been 14 years since the 1993 wildfire that all but wiped out entire neighborhoods.

That last number would be meaningless if not for the fact that 14 years before that there was another big wildfire in Laguna.

Could there be a pattern here? If so, it’s not one we want to repeat.

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The goats have been on the job since before the 1993 wildfire — and maybe that fact alone should make people less confident in the animals’ ability to create a “fire wall” of protection.

But we suspect that the decade-and-a-half of relative fire safety is really responsible for the lack of concern in some quarters about the potential for a firestorm.

Concerns about the effect of goats on the hillside ecology have been circulating for years. The goats are indiscriminate grazers, chomping down anything edible, including plants that are highly desirable and/or protected.

The goats also leave waste behind, most of which no doubt ends up in storm drains and waterways, contributing to the bacteria count on the city’s beaches.

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On the other hand, as City Manager Ken Frank points out, unlike human work crews, the goats are efficient, inexpensive and don’t require hauling out of the greenery they eliminate.

This year, the goats had less to eat because of the lack of rainfall, and the herd has been cut back dramatically.

Recently, as criticism has mounted, Frank has held them back from some areas — hopefully not a decision he will come to regret.

It would be great if city officials could come up with a way to potty-train the goats or send out crews to pick up their waste (not a job most would want, to be sure).

Environmentalists seek a pristine ecology in the hills, a desirable goal, but this cannot be at the cost of lives and homes.

Make no mistake: A wildfire with the ferocity of the recent Lake Tahoe fire, the Catalina fire of some six weeks ago, or October’s devastating Esperanza fire, could happen here. The denuded hillsides may be unattractive, but they are life-saving.


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