GREAT FALLS – While the 341st Missile Wing is dedicated to continuing their nuclear deterrence, fellow comrades on base face a fight of their own this summer.
Malmstrom Air Force Base welcomed around 500 goats for the second year in a row. The animals are tasked with an important mission over the next six weeks – chowing down on invasive weed species on more than 1,500 acres of undeveloped land on base.
"Many of these plants have no forage value for animals beyond goats or for wildlife so you don’t see deer or elk grazing these plant species," Lora Soderquist, grazing project manager, said. "They can become quite invasive and take over acres and acres if they are not managed on some level."
The three-year project, in cooperation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, officially started last summer. Soderquist said the group of goats already adjusted to their temporary home.
"Even helicopter sounds, they’re pretty used to by now so they adapt pretty rapidly," she said.
The idea behind the grazing project isn’t just meant for Malmstrom, however. Soderquist said she works with several private and public landowners in the state who have weed problems.
"I work with producers who are looking for somewhere to summer their goats and then I connect them with clients who are looking for weeds to be eaten," she said.
Soderquist added that it doesn’t matter if the goats are on a military base or on a farm or ranch, they’re the best choice to get rid of weeds without using chemical spray.
"We try to do our pricing so it’s competitive with chemical spraying and a lot of times, I end up coming in at a lower cost than it would be to spray, especially on areas that are more rough landscape to access," she said. "Goats can go up really steep hillsides. They can get into some thicker brush, that type of stuff that’s a little more difficult to manage with spraying."
The goats are moved a few times per day to mimic the natural grazing pressures of densely-packed bison herds.