April 26--Horses will have some four-legged friends this summer at Pilot Knob Hill, a historic site in Mendota Heights that eight years ago was threatened by development but instead has been restored to its natural landscape.
Great River Greening plans to bring in grazing goats as part of its multiyear management plan for the 24-acre public, city-owned site at the east end of the Mendota Bridge, south of Minnesota 55.
Last summer, the St. Paul-based environmental nonprofit introduced horses to Pilot Knob to chow down on smooth brome, wild rye and other grasses. The plan is to bring them back this summer and the next.
Goats will help control an overabundance of Canada goldenrod, as well as buckthorn and other broadleaved plants, said Wiley Buck, a restoration ecologist for Great River Greening, which started its 10-year restoration plan for Pilot Knob in 2007.
"Canada goldenrod is very invasive at the site," Buck said. "Without (goats), we'd need to control it with mowing, and we'd much prefer goats. Mowing is clear-cut, where the goats actually prefer goldenrod and will munch that down once there."
Prescribed grazing has been shown to be an effective management tool for prairies -- a way to increase the biodiversity of the landscape and allow native species to thrive and non-native species to be kept in check. Although still rare in the metro area, the practice is gaining in popularity in other parts of Minnesota, including at some state wildlife-management areas, Buck said.
The Mendota Heights City Council this month approved Great River Greening's 2014 management contract, which besides grazing goats includes controlled burning, oak tree planting, bird monitoring, trail and overlook maintenance, and expanding work to a state Department of Transportation hillside between the north boundary of the Pilot Knob site and Minnesota 55.
Pilot Knob Hill, considered a sacred American Indian burial ground, is the place where Dakota Indians ceded 35 million acres to European-American settlers in the 1851 Treaty of Mendota. It's referred to as "Oheyawahi," or "the hill much visited."
In 2005, the city bought an 8.5-acre portion of the hill for $2 million from the owners of Acacia Park Cemetery and dashed the hopes of developers who wanted to build 157 upscale townhomes there. Two years later, the last 15 adjacent acres were secured with help from preservationists and state and local funds.
"I went to the site the other day, and it looks wonderful," Mendota Heights City Council member Liz Petschel said to Buck at this month's council meeting. "I think the grazing has been an enormous success in terms of your attempts to restore the oak savanna. Compared to where we were and where we're getting to ... I think it looks wonderful."
The cost to carry out this year's work will be about $12,000, with the city paying for $9,200 and an anticipated grant from the state Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund covering the rest, Buck said.
Great River Greening gained some experience with goat grazing last fall on private land in Rosemount. For three weeks, 130 goats chowed on Canada goldenrod and buckthorn at Flint Hills Resources'Pine Bend Refinery.
At Pilot Knob, the plan is to have up to 50 goats grazing the equivalent of a week each starting sometime in July before Canada goldenrod begins to flower, Buck said. They will start munching on the hill, on the far northwestern part of the site, and creep into the wooded, undeveloped part of Acacia Park Cemetery's property, which Buck said will benefit the goats because it will provide them needed shade and shelter.
While goats are low maintenance in many ways, containment is a challenge, as is protection from dogs and coyotes, he said. So, in addition to a temporary electric fence, the goats will be put into shelters at night.
Nick Ferraro can be reached at 651-228-2173. Follow him at twitter.com/NFerraroPiPress.
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