By Gianna Volpe
It’s been nine years since the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt began their effort to transform Vineyard Field in Bridgehampton back to native grassland after it was overgrown by an invasive plant species. Now goats will join the fight in stemming the tide of the unwanted autumn olive.
Upstate New York’s Rhinebeck-based Green Goats will provide a herd of weed-eating goats next month to the South Fork to aid in the restoration of the field, which lies behind the South Fork Natural History Museum. The property is part of the greenbelt, which runs from Sag Harbor Cove to the Atlantic Ocean.
The autumn olive, a flowering plant with light silver bark, was originally planted for its beauty. It also attracts birds because its fragrant flowers become berries. But the thorny plant is also so invasive it outgrows and shades out native species, ultimately forming a an impenetrable thicket.
The FLPG believes Green Goats is an ideal choice for getting an upper hand on the autumn olive as the invasive plant reasserts itself with a vengeance during the growing season when the Friends refrain from using mowers on the field to protect the its wildlife, including snakes, turtles, and snails.
“We’re losing the battle, so we’re hoping these goats are going to help,” FLPG president Dai Dayton said of the project. “They can graze throughout the summer without hurting any animals, so we’re hoping they will put an end” to the fight against the autumn olive.
Green Goats has been providing the chewing power to eliminate unwanted plant populations throughout the state—its goats chomp up poison ivy, phragmites and other undesirable plants—for seven years now.
Mozart the goat and his band of hungry friends began their work in 2007 when they cleared out invasive plants threatening a Civil War gun battery at New York City’s Fort Wadsworth, according to the Green Goats website.
“Larry brings his goats to the location, and they munch away for the season, and then he takes them home for the winter,” Ms. Dayton said of Green Goats owner, Larry Cihanek. “The goats prefer to browse, so they’ll really go after those autumn olives. They like to eat shrubs.”
Mr. Cihanek’s four-legged weed whackers are not shy and their reputation for browsing aggressively precedes them, according to Ms. Dayton. Though some autumn olives stand 6-feet-tall, she said the animals will gang up on a single plant to get the job done.
“They stand up on their hind legs and Larry said they will actually push the plant right over and they all jump on it and eat it,” she said. “It’ll be fun to watch…. We need those big goats to get up there and defoliate the plants so they finally die.”
Mr. Cihanek’s goats should arrive at Vineyard Field in the beginning of May.
Southampton Town has already contributed $3,500 so that Mr. Cihanek’s goats begin their work on the town-owned land next month, but Ms. Dayton said that will cover only half of the cost for the six-month initiative. She is asking the public to help the cause through donations to the Friends of Long Pond Greenbelt website (longpondgreenbelt.org) and has invited all to see the project in action first-hand during an educational program called “Project Goat,” which will take place at Vineyard Field on August 16.