If you stopped at the Solid Waste Agency in September or October 2017, you may have seen an unexpected site – more than 240 goats!

The goats ate away at the grass and weeds covering a closed and capped 30-acre section of landfill at 1954 County Home Road, Marion. Taking down about an acre each day, the goats moved from section-to-section, secured by portable fencing and tended by local goat farmers.

The Solid Waste Agency used the goats because during winter 2018, a mixture of native wildflower and prairie grass seeds was broadcast on the area the goats have cleared. Ideally, a prescribed burn is conducted before the seeds are planted. However, because landfills generate gases, such as methane, and there is a pipe and well system collecting the landfill gases, a burn could not be used. The goats helped to replicate the effect of a prescribed burn.

The native seeds that are planted will grow into plants that attract pollinators such as butterflies and bees. These insects play an important role in the pollination of food-bearing crops and other plants. A nation-wide decline in pollinator populations has been linked to loss of native habitats. Thanks to the goats’ efforts, there will be more milkweed (a monarch caterpillar’s only source of food) and other native plants to support generations of pollinators for years to come.

In addition to their work on the pollinator-friendly natural habitat, the Solid Waste Agency managed three monarch rearing tents on site this summer. More than 400 monarch butterflies emerged and were released. The native habitat project is supported by a grant from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Environmental Management System program.