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Goats pare back poison ivy at Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve

Jeff Himler
| Friday, May 4, 2018, 11:06 p.m.
Amy McNeill, a work study student from Saint Vincent College, hangs out with the herd of goats from Allegheny GoatScape on Friday, May 4, 2018 in a designed area of vegetation clearing at Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve in Latrobe. The animals are used by businesses and locations that need an ecologically friendly approach to clearing an area of invasive plant species.  Next week the goats will be working at UPMC Shadyside, clearing a hillside area of brush.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Amy McNeill, a work study student from Saint Vincent College, hangs out with the herd of goats from Allegheny GoatScape on Friday, May 4, 2018 in a designed area of vegetation clearing at Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve in Latrobe. The animals are used by businesses and locations that need an ecologically friendly approach to clearing an area of invasive plant species. Next week the goats will be working at UPMC Shadyside, clearing a hillside area of brush.
A pair of Nubian goats eat leaves while clearing a thicket at Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve on Friday, May 4, 2018 in Latrobe.  The animal is part of a herd of working goats that help clear brush and unwanted invasive plants from a designated area. The herd is part of the company Allegheny GoatScape.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A pair of Nubian goats eat leaves while clearing a thicket at Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve on Friday, May 4, 2018 in Latrobe. The animal is part of a herd of working goats that help clear brush and unwanted invasive plants from a designated area. The herd is part of the company Allegheny GoatScape.
A Nubian goat searches for a branch filled with leaves while clearing a thicket at Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve on Friday, May 4, 2018 in Latrobe.  The animal is part of a herd of working goats that help clear brush and unwanted invasive plants from a designated area. The herd is part of the company Allegheny GoatScape.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A Nubian goat searches for a branch filled with leaves while clearing a thicket at Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve on Friday, May 4, 2018 in Latrobe. The animal is part of a herd of working goats that help clear brush and unwanted invasive plants from a designated area. The herd is part of the company Allegheny GoatScape.

Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve has imported some domestic fauna to help curb some invasive flora.

A herd of 10 goats provided by nonprofit Allegheny GoatScape in Allegheny County took up temporary residence Monday at the nature reserve at Saint Vincent College in Unity. They're nearing the end of their mission to munch on poison ivy and other unwanted vegetation along the Blockhouse Trail.

“There are some areas that would be nice picnic areas that we want to clear out,” said Angela Belli, director of the nature reserve.

The poison ivy has hindered a human crew from beginning that job, but it's not a problem for the grazing goats.

“Goats don't have a reaction, as humans do, to poison ivy,” Gavin Deming, Allegheny GoatScape executive director, said. They also have a knack for ingesting leaves from plants without being bothered by the sharp, thorny parts.

“That makes them ideal for cleaning up spaces,” Deming said.

“They're pretty much eating and fertilizing machines,” Belli said.

The goats have been chewing back such nuisance plants as multiflora rose over an area totaling nearly 5 acres. That will make it easier for humans to reach and remove poison hemlock plants, which can irritate bare skin and can grow over 6 feet tall.

Keeping invasive plants in check will be an ongoing task at the reserve, Belli said.

“The goats are an ecological way to do this. We don't use fossil fuels, and it's less labor-intensive,” she said. “It's something we'll probably continue in some capacity.”

While at the Winnie Palmer site, the goats have been guarded by a surrounding fence and a miniature donkey companion that will sound an alert if a coyote or other potential predator arrives in the vicinity.

As of Thursday, there had been no such problems at the site, Belli said.

Saint Vincent students are among those who have enjoyed watching the goats at work. “It's a great way to de-stress during finals week,” she said.

According to Deming, the goats' next assignment will be grazing on an area at UPMC Shadyside where poison ivy has spread.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622, jhimler@tribweb.com or via Twitter @jhimler_news.

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