August 25, 2019

Eagle Scout using goats to attain scouting honor


What do you get when you mix together an award-winning Boy Scout and 38 goats? You get a story about poison ivy and huge appetites.

A beautiful day at Blackwell Forest Preserve near west suburban Warrenville. A beautiful day for people, and for goats eating enough to bust their bellies. It’s a 10-hour day for these vegetarian, nonstop leaf munchers. And it’s all because of Eagle Scout Gavin Burseth.

“We have 38 goats eating poison ivy,” he said. “They’re eating all the other invasive plants here today. And they’ll be fertilizing the land also and bringing back the native vegetation.”

Burseth is already an Eagle Scout and he’s now working for one of the scout’s highest honors, The Hornaday Award. He has already completed two conservation projects towards that goal this is the last part of his big test.

“It’s a really hard award,” Burseth said. “Last year only five scouts got this award last year. So it’s really hard to win.

This is a favorite spot for campers in this DuPage County Forest Preserve. They camp here, they hike here and yes there’s lots of poison ivy.

“The poison ivy was pretty extensive through this area and we really wanted to control it,” said Burseth.

He is working with his older brother Derek, who owns a company called “Thor Goats Eco Lawn Care” and together the brothers and the goats are an environmental super team.

Goats, as you probably know, can eat almost anything. Their stomachs are like Kevlar, bulletproof. So these are the perfect employees for this job.

“They’ll never take a break until the sun sets. Even after that they’d probably work the whole night through,” Derek Burseth said.

There is a low voltage fence to keep the goats in and people out, so no goat-napping, please.

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Eagle Scout using goats to attain scouting honor

Meet the native: Poison Ivy

Few would guess that this native plant of disrepute is in the same family as tasty cashews and pistachios. Poison ivy is typically seen clambering up trees with adventitious roots that sprout from aerial parts of the stem. The key to identification is poison ivys trifoliate arrangement, in which leaflets are present in groups of three.

Some other climbing vines are mistaken for poison ivy in Florida, like Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia); however, this look-alike presents leaflets in groups of five instead. To avoid confusion, remember the rhyme, Leaves of three, let them be!

Although nearly everyone knows to steer clear of poison ivy, a substantial percentage of people do not develop a rash upon contact. People who are allergic to poison ivy recoil from its touch to hopefully prevent an itchy or blistering condition caused by its sap. While it seems no one would dare experiment with poison ivys juices, it served as an ink in the past since its initial yellow color darkens upon drying.

Many people may overlook the fact that poison ivy fulfills a role in local food webs. Plants just sprouting from the ground that we may tromp upon are grazed by deer. White flowers, though visually insignificant to us, bloom on older vines and attract honeybees for pollination. The resulting fruits are devoured by songbirds in need of extra energy during tough winters. This is also the season to easily identify poison ivy since some red-tinted leaves blink among drabber foliage like festive lights.

Andee Naccarato, Department of Education and Conservation, Naples Botanical Garden

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Meet the native: Poison Ivy

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