The unconventional weapon against future wildfires: Goats

They arrive early and open the trailer. The goats jump out, ready to eat, as Ms. Malmberg watches that they don’t stray. The team sets up an electric fence to confine the goats and their meals to a specific area overnight.

After the goats digest the brush, their waste returns organic matter to the soil, increasing its potential to hold water. Goats are browsers that eat the grass, leaves and tall brush that cows and other grazers can’t reach. This type of vegetation is known as the fire fuel ladder and leads to wider spread when wildfires spark. More than quell a fire, Ms. Malmberg aims to prevent it from even starting. “By increasing soil organic matter by 1 percent, that soil can hold an additional 16,500 gallons of water per acre,” said Ms. Malmberg. “If helicopters come and dump water on the fires, nothing is done for the soil.”

In 2020, Ms. Malmberg co-founded the nonprofit Goatapelli Foundation to train people in how to use goats to prevent wildfires. She said that of the 200 or so participants, only a few had launched their own businesses. Start-up costs could total $360,000, Ms. Malmberg said, including equipment and the livestock, which she trains herself.