08/13/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Ruminants Roam Where Mowers and Herbicides Once Ruled

Goats eat anything. Sheep, cows and horses aren't bad either. And they're low impact. Which is why this summer the Maryland State Highway Administration is renting a herd of goats and sheep to control invasive weeds in a wetland area. Their delicate hooves have a lighter step than the 7500-pound lawn mower which would leave deep ruts that could destroy the area's hydrology and endanger the habitat of the endangered Bog Turtle.

It's also why Seattle, which ranked first among large cities in NRDC"s Smarter Cities sustainability ranking", not only uses hydroelectric plants for 90 percent of its power, but goats rather than chemicals pesticides to clear brush and blackberries around substations. "Rent-a-ruminant" goats have been used by the University of Washington, road crews and the Navy as well.

Transportation departments in at least five states -- Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico and Oregon -- have used goats and sheep to minimize roadside vegetation. While homeowners in California have rented them out to gobble up brush near their properties that in dry conditions can be a fire hazard, utilities in Durham, New Hampshire got them to clear the brush around power lines, and Chattanoogans, in Tennessee, invited them to snack on the invasive vine kudzu.

From vineyard owners to utility operators, many are finding grazing animals to be a sensible alternative to using machinery that burns up fossil fuels or applying herbicides that can seep into groundwater. Dollar for dollar, it costs about as much to rent and manage the goats as to power a tractor-lawn mower or apply herbicides, but there is no way to calculate the environmental savings from using these low impact shrub lovers.

For more smart solutions to environmental problems that might work well in your city and town, check out NRDC"s new Smarter Cities web site.