Southampton environmentalists believe they have found a way to get rid of some pesky plants that have defied the efforts of volunteers to dig them up.
The volunteers' work -- and tens of thousands of dollars in expenditures by Southampton Town -- have gone toward trying to rid fields of Autumn Olive, a plant that is not native to Long Island and grows so quickly it chokes out the native species.
It has found a home in a 40-acre field off Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike that is protected from development by the town. Because it is also home to turtles and snakes and other species, it is impossible to use lawnmowers to trim back the plant. Pesticides also can not be used because it is so close to freshwater lakes in the Long Pond Greenbelt.
Enter the goats.
Nubian dairy goats, rented from farmers in upstate Rhinebeck, will be brought to Bridgehampton in a few weeks, when the weather gets a little better and the field dries out. One farmer, Larry Cihanek, has about 65 goats, but only a few are expected to be needed in Bridgehampton. There, they will be fenced in on a few acres of the field where they will be free to eat the existing plants as well as any new green plant shoots. Then the field will be replanted with native vegetation.
Once one part of the field is rid of Autumn Olive, the fences will be moved and the goats will be free to continue munching.
"If there are five kinds of plants, they will eat their favorite ones first. They love certain kinds of plants that people hate. Poison ivy is probably their favorite kind of plant on the planet," Cihanek said.
Dai Dayton, president of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, said that when her group first tackled the Autumn Olive in Vineyard Field, the 40 acre property was completely overgrown.
"There were 12-foot olive bushes...solid olives. It was a constant battle," she said.
Now, there is a meadow and a hiking trail in some woods. And, the constant battle remains, she said, because new plants keep sprouting up.
Earlier this month, the town board voted 5-0 to allow the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt to build fences and rent the goats. They will be helped by volunteers from the South Fork Natural History Museum, which is next to the town-owned field.
The Long Pond volunteers have agreed to help pay for the fencing, assist in installing it, and monitor the goats when they arrive. The town board authorized the work and agreed to pay up to $3,500 for the fence installation and goat rental.
Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said that, if the goats do their job, the town might try using them for another job -- eating the grass that grows around the fragile headstones in the town's historic cemeteries.