Prescribed burns and grazing goats: Both will help make the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri more resilient to climate change.

The 1.5-million acre National Forest is what’s known as a ‘fire-adapted’ ecosystem. Historically, low-severity wildfires were common and helped keep unwanted species from taking over the forest. 

“We know it had frequent fire,” says Reggie Bray of the U.S. Forest Service. “We know that it was much more open.”

Bray and his colleagues are mimicking this natural system. They remove dying trees, and conduct controlled burns to clear woody brush and fuel from the forest floor.

This reduces the threat of severe wildfires and helps regenerate the forest.

“When you start to open up an overstory stand and put sunlight on the forest floor, it really responds,” Bray says.

To keep unwanted plants from sprouting back between burns, the managers let goats graze in some parts of the forest. The animals happily eat woody stems and invasive species.

Their insatiable appetites also make goats useful in areas where it’s difficult to conduct prescribed burns, like along highways.

As the climate warms, the risks of extreme fires may grow, so hungry nannies and kids can help protect the forest.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media