Eintime Conversion for education and research 10-20-2007 @ 07:24:13
Copyrighted by originating associated source: Original

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Summer is settling onto Missionary Ridge overlooking this southeast city. Swallows glide on the warm breeze rustling the hackberry trees, kudzu vines sprout along the hillside and the goats are back at work.

Chattanooga’s goats have become unofficial city mascots since the Public Works Department decided last year to let them roam a city-owned section of the ridge to nibble the kudzu, the fast-growing vine that throttles the Southern landscape.

The Missionary Ridge goats and the project’s tragicomic turns have created headlines, inspired a folk ballad and invoked more than their share of goat-themed chuckles.

“Usually, in dealing with this, you’ve got to get people past the laugh factor,” said Jerry Jeansonne, a city forestry inspector and the program’s self-described “goat dude.”

Despite the humorous overtones to the city’s methods, the program represents an environmentally friendly effort to grapple with a real problem in Chattanooga and the South.

Kudzu, which is native to Asia, was introduced in the United States in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, according to the . It arrived in the South several years later, becoming a popular ornamental vine, then a forage and erosion-control crop. In the Great Depression, the federal government paid farmers to plant it.

First called “the miracle vine,” kudzu eventually came to be known as “the vine that ate the South.” It grows at an astonishing rate of a foot a day, smothering flora, swallowing houses and blanketing the landscape.

Now embedded in the South, as well as in parts of Oklahoma, Texas and some Northern states, kudzu can be found on at least a million acres of federal forest land, and probably millions more acres of private land, said James H. Miller, a research ecologist for the Forest Service.

While not the worst invasive plant species, “kudzu is probably the most recognized invasive plant in the world,” Mr. Miller said.

On Missionary Ridge, which bisects Chattanooga and where homes command stunning views of the valley below, the battle with kudzu is constant. Of particular worry for the city were vines that draped over the mouth of the McCallie Tunnel, which cuts through the ridge.

Enter the goats. Mr. Jeansonne, after reading an article on the subject, persuaded city officials to hire a local farmer to graze his herd over the tunnel. When the farmer released the herd last fall, the experiment took some unexpected turns. Pranksters put up “goats working” signs. City officials took them down, with some stern words.

Guard donkeys accompanying the herd earned more guffaws and proved ineffective when dogs attacked, killing two goats and mauling a third. This year, llamas replaced the donkeys.

There have been the logistical problems of goat-proof fences, gawkers and the live electric wire. Mr. Jeansonne himself roped an escapee and hauled it back to the pen.

But the headaches have been worth it, he said. Walking a fence line, he held one hand high to show the height of the kudzu before the herd was released. The vines are gone now from the tunnel and the hillside above, some areas newly planted with grass.

“It was kudzu up to an elephant’s eye,” Mr. Jeansonne said.

The drama of the goats inspired the songwriter Randy Mitchell to write “Ode to Billy Goats.” A disc jockey for a local country radio station said the song, which ends with a chorus of bleating, was requested daily for weeks last fall.

“I couldn’t resist it,” Mr. Mitchell said. “It was just screaming to have a song written about it.”

The city plans to use goats to clear the tunnel’s east entrance, and recently, officials sponsored a four-day academy for farmers, hoping to stimulate a micro-industry of kudzu-fighting herds-for-hire.

Chattanooga is not the only city to seek a four-legged alternative to herbicides. For several years, Tallahassee, Fla., fought kudzu with sheep. Spartanburg, S.C., tried using goats, but stopped after they were stolen.

Ray W. Burden Jr., county extension director for the Institute of Agriculture at the , said animal control of kudzu was not guaranteed to work but had succeeded on Missionary Ridge.

“Safety just will not let you get in on some of these slopes with equipment or even people trying to clear it by hand,” Mr. Burden said. “And that’s where the goats come in.”

Tina Price, who has lived next to the city land for nearly 25 years, said she used to hack a path through the kudzu as she left her house in the morning. Vines would envelop the porch and curl up to the roof.

Ms. Price and her husband arranged to let the goats graze their property as well.

“I love this area, and it’s just always been a problem, everywhere I’ve ever been,” Ms. Price said. “I guess somebody got their head together and decided what to do. It’s working beautifully.”

(Original Len: 9765 Condensed Len: 5384)

10-20-2007 @ 07:24:13