Sunday, April 10, 2016

New Neighbors!

Get Ready! 
I'm so excited! I have been waiting for the new neighbors to show up since we arrived in Athens this past summer and saw a sign about them on a wooded lot just down the street. For weeks afterward, then months I kept checking for them, then found their Facebook page and read articles online to learn more about the project that was bringing them here. And at long last, on April 1 (no joke!) the Chew Crew arrived! The Chew Crew is a UGA project that is enlisting the services of a group of goats to eat invasive bushes, weeds and vines in 2 natural areas on campus, Tanyard Creek and Driftmier Woods.

Welcome Party at Driftmier Woods

Eating Oak Leaves With Gusto!


Goat at Work
The goats were everything I had hoped for in new neighbors--friendly, helpful and fairly quiet. There was a big party when they arrived and UGA students and staff and people in the neighborhood turned out to greet them. The crew at our neighborhood site (Driftmier Woods) consists of a big white Billy Goat and 7 smaller (female?) goats. I know they all have names, but I haven't learned them yet. (I think there may even be a mama and baby, but I'm not sure--I have some detective work to do!) They will stay at Driftmier for 3 weeks, then move back to Tanyard Creek for some touch up work. When they're not eating at UGA, they clear residential property. They are very busy goats! Their first day here the goats were already working hard on improving their wooded lot. Driftmier Woods is a small old growth Piedmont Forest on the UGA campus that over the years has become overgrown with invasive plants. Underneath and behind all the invasives there are huge white oaks (probably 150 years old), beeches, sweet gums and other hardwoods and pines. It is a wonderful hilly spot with hiking trails and picnic tables and a small creek that runs along a low area. It is tucked between the engineering building and graduate housing apartments and people use it to hike, cut through to campus and even ride mountain bikes. I've seen hawks, songbirds, insects, ferns and pretty wildflowers. I've heard that owls, deer and foxes have been spotted in the evenings.

Tall White Oaks

Forest Path

Cranefly Orchid Leaves
Right now the woods remind me of those jungle movie scenes where someone with a machete chops away a clump of vines and uncovers the lost kingdom. There is a lot of work to do here to remove the tons of Chinese Wisteria, Japanese honeysuckle, English Ivy, privet, nandina, lyriope, ligustrum, and a host of other invasive species that are literally covering the forest. The proximity to campus buildings and homes makes the area a poor candidate for prescribed fire, but it is perfect for prescribed grazing. The goats can get into rough terrain and eat and clear vegetation where it might be tough to bring in machinery (though something will need to be brought in to take care of larger bushes and trees). So the goats chew the forest back to health. And volunteers pull, chop, dig and saw. After the site is rehabilitated, it has the potential to be a fabulous small nature area, providing important green space and urban habitat. The project is a collaboration between several UGA departments and involves faculty, students and interested citizens (like me!) Project organizers secured a $25,000 grant to fund the operation and many people are volunteering time to make it a success. They have done such great work with the other site, Tanyard Creek, that I'm sure this will be successful, too.

Overgrown with Invasives

Hidden Jungle Ruins

The Chinese Wisteria that Ate the Woods

The project coordinators are carefully measuring and documenting the effect that the goats are having on the natural areas. At Tanyard Creek, where the goats have been clearing since 2012, the Chew Crew has done a great job and there are not many invasive woody shrubs left. I spent a lovely morning there last month helping to identify and measure herbaceous plants within defined grids. At Driftmier Woods, in addition to clearing the invasives, the concern is that the goats will eat the oak seedlings and will have an adverse effect on the regeneration of the forest when the invasive cover is cleared, so I spent an afternoon tagging and measuring oak seedings. Now that the goats have arrived, it is pretty clear that they LOVE to eat oak seedings, so I imagine that lots of wire cages will be needed to protect them to ensure new forest growth. It is a huge project and only one section of the woods have been fenced for goat foraging so far. Much more work is yet to come. It makes me appreciate how much effort has gone into all the existing natural areas that I enjoy so much.

Tanyard Creek Plant ID

The Grid for Counting Plants

Cages to Protect Baby Oaks

As a new person to town, I have been looking for ways to get involved and find my niche. I think this is a good fit. I have only pitched in a little so far, but they will need a lot more help over the coming years, clearing, pulling, counting and measuring. Independent of the Chew a Crew project, I'm making a personal project of observing and photographing birds, plants and other wildlife in Driftmier Woods and have added it to eBird as a birding location. It would be nice if over the years I could document an increase in the diversity of species. I hope that I can become as intimately acquainted with these woods as I did with the Ditch and Morningside and La Chua Trail in Gainesville. I've already met some friendly and interesting people and it feels great to be part of a big community project. This one is perfect for me, given my interests in native wildflowers, invasive plants, wildlife and environmental education. It will be exciting to see the changes and I'm really happy to be part of it. Chew on, goats!

Chew On, Goats!

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