Mount Holly won't get goat-driven cleanup

Randi Rothmel expected 70 goats to clear ivy that is smothering trees and shrubs at the Mount. But the owner of the Maryland firm that supplies the animals says they just don't like eating ivy off the ground.
Randi Rothmel expected 70 goats to clear ivy that is smothering trees and shrubs at the Mount. But the owner of the Maryland firm that supplies the animals says they just don't like eating ivy off the ground. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 29, 2014

The goats are not coming.

That is, the 70 goats from Maryland that were supposed to arrive in Mount Holly this week to eat the ivy that is smothering trees and shrubs at a woodland park affectionately known as the Mount.

Normally, the herd indiscriminately consumes leaves, twigs, and other things found in nature. But it won't make a dent in the thick carpet of ivy that has spread across the Mount, says Brian Knox, owner of Eco-Goats, which bills itself as an environmentally friendly vegetation control service.

"They will eat ivy when it goes vertical, up to seven feet up a tree, but the dusty stuff on the ground they just don't like," Knox said. "They'll only eat about 40 percent of it off the ground."

Knox also worried about the "potential for mischief" since the site is on a hill, accessible to the public on all sides, even though he planned to erect an electric fence. "I can see someone saying, Hey, wouldn't it be fun to let the goats out?" he said. The plan was to let the goats graze for 12 days to get a handle on the ever-spreading ivy off High Street.

Typically, Knox has sent the goat crew to 20 to 30 locations in Maryland and Pennsylvania every year for the last seven years. "This is the first time I've said no; it doesn't make sense to do this job," he said.

Randi Rothmel, chairwoman of the township's environmental advisory committee and a member of the green committee that received a $12,000 grant to hire the service, says she is disappointed. "Having the goats is a novel alternative to using harsh chemicals," she said. "The people in town were pretty excited about having them."

Even students at Rancocas Valley High School were waiting for the goats. They had planned to produce an educational film about the role the critters play in controlling invasive species without harming the environment, she said.

Rothmel said Knox had agreed to take on the project, but changed his mind over the Memorial Day weekend after examining the site and realizing that the goats would not be able to adequately control the ivy. He notified her Tuesday. Now she said she must notify Sustainable Jersey, a nonprofit organization that gives towns money to go green, to learn whether the town can use the grant to hire a contractor to use a heavy-duty mower to tackle the problem.

Knox had offered to find a contractor who has a "brush hog," which he called "the equivalent of a mower on steroids." He said the mower can snip the ivy much closer to the ground and also remove twigs and sticks in its path. That alternative, he said, would likely be cheaper and then could be followed up with a herbicide spray to keep new unwanted growth from sprouting. And it still is more environmentally friendly than just killing the ivy with chemicals, he said.

Rothmel said the plan is to plant about 2,500 native trees and shrubs this fall in the open areas of the 10-acre woodland park once the ivy is gone. One thousand of the saplings are in her backyard. "In order to stay on our timeline we will need to find an alternative to reduce the density of the ivy," she said.


jhefler@phillynews.com

856-779-3224 @JanHefler

www.inquirer.com/burlcobuzz

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