Putting Wildlife to Work
Technological advancements have been at the forefront of the sustainability movement. Electric vehicles have been developed to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Solar energy has been made so cheap that people can install panels on their homes. However, while we often look toward future technologies to assist in our sustainability efforts, the answer is often right in front of us: nature itself.
Nature’s Pest Control: Ducks
Permaculture is a set of design principles that focus around natural processes to create a sustainable and eco-friendly system. Oftentimes, this includes introducing animals into a system to fight off pests and weeds. One of the most popular examples takes place across Asia, where ducks are often released into rice-paddies to eat pests and weeds and leave behind natural fertilizer. With these ducks on patrol, farmers can reduce and even eliminate their need for artificial fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides – all three major concerns in the realm of sustainability.
The practice of integrating ducks into rice paddies isn’t necessarily new. It was first documented in China about 600 years ago, but farmers were quickly lured away from this ancient practice by quick-fix fertilizers and pesticides. But once these industrial technologies started to pose a threat to the environment, many farmers went back to this practice, referred to as “integrated rice-duck farming.” The practice is so successful that a number of other industries have been applying it as well; for instance, a vineyard in South Africa, Vergenoegd Löw Wine Estate, reportedly hired 800 ducks for pest control and fertilization.
Preventing Fires with Goats
But animals can be put to work on more than just farms. Most recently, California has hired herds of goats to help mitigate future wildfires. If you recall, 2018 brought severe fires to the state of California, with a total of 8,527 fires burning a total area of 1,893,913 acres. When summer begins and the rain stops, California’s vegetation quickly turns crisp and brown; the tiniest spark could set off a major fire. What’s worse is there are few weapons against this threat. Prescribed burns can quickly get out of hand and chemicals could leach into the water supply.
This conundrum led to a creative solution: goats. In December 2018, Reinette Senum, vice mayor of Nevada City, started a crowdfunding campaign – Goat Fund Me – in order to purchase goats that would clear the potentially dangerous vegetation in and around the city. The trend is so popular across California that a number of goat rental services are available: Goats R Us, Rent a Goat, Goats on the Go. Environmental Land Management operates a herd of 1,200 goats that work in cities throughout southern California. Their tireless appetite makes them ideal candidates for clearing brush and many herds are acclimated to working in urban environments.
Sometimes the best answers are right in front of us. In the case of sustainability, sometimes the answer lies in trusting the ecosystem to take care of itself. Regardless, the ducks are happy, the goats are happy, and we can all rest a bit easier knowing our farms and communities are protected by these altruistic animals.