Using goats to clear brambles is environmentally friendly and cost-effective, perfect for the spirit of Laudato Si’.
When the caretakers of St. Mary’s cemetery took on the task of cleaning the overgrown graveyard, they didn’t expect to encounter a dizzying amount of Buckthorn, an invasive species of plant brought to America in the 19th century. According to The Department of Natural Resources, Buckthorn can outgrow native plants, degrade the soil, and threaten entire forests, along with wreaking havoc on human skin.
Patricia Kasten, from Catholic News Service, reports that the caretakers considered the use of herbicide to kill the Buckthorn, but they worried that it might kill more than just the Buckthorn. Herbicide could potentially wipe out all the plants in the area while subsequently ruining the land for wildlife, with an added danger that rain water could carry the poison into the nearby river.
That’s when local landscaper Ron Wolff approached St. Mary’s with the suggestion of using goats to clear the cemetery of the invasive element. Wolff told Brian Dresang, the cemetery director, that to goats, Buckthorn is like “hot apple pie.” Dresang told CNS:
“It’s amazing the amount they eat,” said Dresang. “They are about 3 feet high, but do they eat a lot of stuff. … Ron said they would make a big dent. … I didn’t believe him, but I have to admit, they eat a ton.”
The goats have been welcomed by the St. Mary’s community and have even begun taking trips out to the cemetery to watch them work. They’re especially popular with the children of the community, some of whom have their parents bring them out nearly every day.
Dresang has praised the parish’s new workers as extremely cost-effective. He said:
“A small cemetery like us loses money every year. The cemetery business is a hard business anyway. There is no way we would be able to do this without them.”
The goats will work until the fall, but if they don’t complete their mission, they will be brought back in the spring. The eco-friendly work they do has an added bonus of being perfectly in line with the spirit of “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical which called on all Catholics to do their part to protect the environment.
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