- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2005

They are the original weed eaters — and they’re hungry.

Maryland officials on Tuesday unleashed a group of goats in Sligo Creek Park as part of a pilot program to help control the growth of invasive plant species in the area, and the giddy grazers have been appreciated.

“Kids walking along the hiker-biker trail just love coming by and seeing the goats,” said Marion Joyce with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. “They’re a pretty friendly group.”

The 15 male goats — svelte and starving after breeding season — work for their food from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the four-day program, sponsored by the Park and Planning Commission, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Officials have placed the group in a quarter-mile area overrun with multiflora rose, which takes over and dominates meadows, and porcelainberry, which covers trees and eventually kills them.

Miss Joyce said officials will determine how many pounds of vegetation the goats consume, and whether the program is cost-effective compared with alternatives.

“We don’t want to use pesticides and herbicides that close to a stream valley,” she said. “We’re looking for environmentally friendly ways to do this.”

Derick P. Berlage, chairman of the Montgomery County Planning Board, said the Silver Spring park has become overrun with nonnative plant species, in part because deer in the area don’t recognize the foreign plants as food.

“Deer won’t eat the invasives, so [the plants] grow rapidly throughout our 32,600-acre park system,” he said. “Since goats will eat just about anything, we’re testing them on some of our toughest areas in the urban forest to see if it works as well as we hope it will.”

Similar programs have been operated in Western states and in North Carolina, officials said.

Even if the program proves a success in Montgomery County, it may not be long term unless officials can find ways to lower the cost, Miss Joyce said.

The program’s price tag is about $2,000.

“Even if we decide that this is cost-effective, we don’t have the money in our budget to really repeat it,” she said.

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