Hundreds of goats are teaching Castle Pines high schoolers a thing or two about fire mitigation

Posted at 9:23 PM, Jun 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-29 00:37:00-04

CASTLE PINES, Colo. -- A herd of 300 goats has taken over the Pine Ridge neighborhood in Castle Pines, and surprisingly, residents are happy about it. In fact, they invited them in. 

The unique form of wildfire mitigation has been chomping away at the open space since Saturday, eating tall grasses and clearing brush. 
"They are keeping us away from catching on fire," community member Arlene Armata told Denver7.   
There are black goats, white goats, goats that climb trees, even a baby goat that's just a week old. They were bought in by the neighborhood homeowner's association, in partnership with South Metro Fire.
"We want to hopefully find ways of protecting these communities from fire as much as we can but also find ways that are best for the ecosystem long term," AP science teacher Jenny Sickle said. 
That's why AP students from nearby Rock Canyon High School have given up part of their summer break to take part in a hands-on scientific study.
"We've done a lot of different tests so far and we're seeing the goats effect on biodiversity and soil health," 11th grader Delaney Yehle said. 
"(Testing) PH levels, soil microbial health that ties in with soil organic matter" 12th grader Dana Coe added.
And doing all of this while in high school. 
"It's just such a bragging rights thing like, 'yeah, I was in high school when I learned that, oh you college people don't know that,'" Coe said.
Since many of the students involved in the study live in the area, they get to do their hands-on science with the goats right in their own backyards.
"It's kind of awesome that it's right outside our neighborhoods and so close to where I live," Yehle said. 
"I've always wanted to do stuff that mattered, that directly changes something about they way we live," Coe added. "This is giving scientific reasoning for why we are using goats for fire mitigation."
The goats will be in Castle Pines, eating about one acre at a time, for the next few days. Other HOAs have also hired the herd to do mitigation in their neighborhoods. 
The Rock Canyon study will last a few years before their findings are published.