Goat grazing bill hits snag in committee

January 21, 2020

A bill designed to allow local governments to use goat herds to control overgrowth along stream banks hit a snag in its first committee hearing and will be revisited again this week.

SB 648 (Boysko) authorizes a local government that procures and utilizes goats for the temporary grazing of stream buffers to remain in compliance with a resource management plan for pasture land. Such compliance qualifies the locality for matching grants for agricultural best management practices provided through the Virginia Agricultural Best Management Practices Cost-Share Program. The bill also clarifies that such grazing is not prohibited by certain provisions of the State Water Control Law.

The bill seeks to remedy a problem first encountered by the Town of Leesburg in Loudoun County.  There, the Town must keep a creek clear of weeds and overgrowth to remain in compliance with federal flood standards, but they found that it was not feasible to keep clear via manual labor due to safety hazards and unstable terrain and that spraying herbicides was having an adverse effect on wildlife.  So, they turned to a practice called “flash grazing.”

Flash grazing is the practice of releasing a high concentration of livestock on a tract of land and allowing them to graze for a short period of time.  In this case, the town borrowed a herd of goats from a local farmer and allowed them to graze the banks of the stream for two weeks.

While flash grazing took care of the overgrowth problem, it did however raise a question as to the legality of the practice, as the Commonwealth works to prevent livestock – and livestock waste – from entering creeks and streams to improve water quality.  Thus, Senator Jennifer Boysko introduced SB 648.

While the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee was receptive to and generally supportive of the idea, there was concern that the bill, as drafted, was too broad.  Committee Members expressed hesitancy to authorize flash grazing carte blanche as they were worried about a program without a time limit.  After healthy discussion, the Committee asked that Senator Boysko allow her bill to “go by for the week,” so she could draft new language that would permit a locality to adopt an ordinance for flash grazing rather than simply allow the practice wholesale.

VACo will continue to monitor the progress and evolution of this bill as it returns to the docket this week.

VACo Contact: Chris McDonald, Esq.

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