Goats and beetles used to fight invasive species

Leafy spurge is found across Alberta and its creeping root system makes it very difficult to control

Pull, mow, burn, and spray.

These are common ways that Ducks Unlimited Canada manages invasive plant species on projects located on agricultural land. But there’s a new management tool in the mix now being used by the organization. It has started using goats and flea beetles to help combat leafy spurge at its Frank Lake project located 50 kilometres southeast of Calgary.

“Goats and flea beetles are natural allies,” said Ashley Rawlak, a conservation specialist with Ducks Unlimited Canada. “That’s why DUC is using goats on grasslands to help combat destructive, invasive plants through grazing.”

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Prairie grasslands provide ducks, such as pintails, with important plant cover for nesting. While these waterfowl aren’t equipped to stop the spread of invasive plants, the hoofed animals they share this landscape with are.

Likely introduced to Canada in a bag of contaminated seed, invasive leafy spurge releases toxins into the soil where it grows, which prevents other plants from taking root. It also impacts the land’s capacity to hold water.

“It’s a problematic weed,” said Rawluk.

Fortunately, goats love it and “eat it like it’s candy.”

This year, Rawluk plans to have goats released onto grasslands at Frank Lake on three separate occasions. While small improvements can be noted after goats have been in the field, it will take several years before the full benefits of their grazing are seen.

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