In the wake of devastating wildfires that ravaged the southern Chilean city of Santa Juana, a unique task force emerged to combat future blazes and protect the Bosques de Chacay, a native forest. This special team consists of a herd of goats, affectionately known as the "firefighting goats." These remarkable animals have already played a crucial role in saving the forest once, preventing its destruction during the recent forest fires that wreaked havoc in south-central Chile. By leveraging the natural grazing behavior of goats, the Buena Cabra project not only fights fires but also contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the global vision for a sustainable society.
The year-round arid climate of Chile, exacerbated by heatwaves and a severe drought, has made the country particularly susceptible to forest fires. In February, these fires claimed numerous lives, injured thousands, and destroyed almost 440,000 hectares of land. However, amid the devastation, the Bosques de Chacay stood strong, largely due to the efforts of the Buena Cabra project. Rocio Cruces, co-founder of the 16-hectare park and the Buena Cabra initiative, emphasized that the park remained a green oasis amidst a sea of flames.
The strategy employed by Buena Cabra, also implemented in Portugal and Spain, involves using grazing goats to manage dry pastures and other vegetation that serve as fuel for forest fires during the summer. The goats not only consume the dry vegetation but also enrich the soil with their droppings, preventing erosion and promoting healthier plant growth. This approach has proven effective in mitigating the impact of fires and reducing their intensity.
During the recent wildfires, the fire reached the forest of Bosques de Chacay, but due to the goats' presence, only the first line of trees, accounting for less than 10% of the park, was affected. Small fires broke out but were quickly contained, thanks to the minimal brush facilitated by the goats' grazing activities. Rocio Cruces, reflecting on the project's success, revealed that the catastrophic wildfires of 2017 inspired her to initiate the Buena Cabra project. Since then, the flock of goats has grown from 16 to 150, and Cruces hopes to inspire others to adopt this innovative approach to fire prevention.
The Buena Cabra project aligns with the SDGs and the global vision for sustainability on various fronts. First and foremost, it contributes to Goal 15: Life on Land, by promoting the conservation and sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems. By preventing forest fires and reducing the impact of wildfires, the project safeguards the biodiversity and ecological balance of the Bosques de Chacay, preserving the habitat for numerous plant and animal species.
Moreover, the project also addresses Goal 13: Climate Action. Forest fires are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to climate change. By preventing and mitigating these fires, the Buena Cabra project helps reduce emissions and promotes climate resilience. The goats' grazing activities also contribute to soil health and fertility, supporting sustainable agriculture and land use practices in line with Goal 2: Zero Hunger and Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.
Furthermore, the project aligns with Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. By protecting the Bosques de Chacay, the Buena Cabra project enhances the resilience of Santa Juana, ensuring a healthier and safer environment for the local community. The project also serves as an example of community-led action, inspiring others to replicate the initiative and collaborate on fire prevention efforts.
"In Chile, we are failing in fire prevention," expressed Francisco Di Napoli, a forestry engineer from the University of Concepcion in Chile. Di Napoli, familiar with the technique of strategic grazing, believes that goats can play a significant role in mitigating fire risks. He encourages other organizations to evaluate suitable areas for the application of this approach, identifying regions with high fuel loads where goats can effectively manage the vegetation.
The Buena Cabra project in Santa Juana, Chile, stands as a shining example of innovative and community-driven solutions to pressing environmental challenges. By harnessing the natural behaviors of goats to combat wildfires, the project not only protects the Bosques de Chacay but also contributes to the broader global vision for sustainability and the achievement of the SDGs. Through its dedication to fire prevention, conservation, and sustainable land management, Buena Cabra demonstrates the transformative potential of local initiatives in building a more resilient and sustainable future for all.