The wildfire season claims a lot of victims and requires many fire-fighters to combat the blazes raging through Portugal. This year, in July alone, a team of 800 fire-fighters, 245 vehicles including bulldozers, 13 planes and helicopters fought a wildfire in the heavily forested region of Castelo Branco. As a result of the wildfires in the last two years, the Portuguese government has now decided to allocate 50 percent of its fire fighting budget to prevention measures and a very small part of the budget includes a programme that encourages shepherds to bring their goat herds to graze in rural areas.

“I think we finally understood that we cannot just fight fires but must also prevent them, by working hard in the forest during the months before the summer heat arrives,” Paulo Dias, a forestry engineer who has been observing the goat project said to the New York Times.

In the New York Times, Raphael Minder reports that part of Portugal’s problem is that inland villages have decreased in population. The absence of farmers, shepherds and goatherds has left rural areas overgrown, causing fires to spread and burn faster, namely on steep slopes which are out of reach for tractors.

Portugal’s forest service is now launching a pilot programme costing just a few thousand Euros that is returning goats to the countryside to help remote villages minimise burning from wildfires.

So far, Milder reports, 40 to 50 goatherds and shepherds across the country have already signed up for the pilot programme, along with around 11,000 goats that graze across 6.700 acres of selected areas that are more susceptible to fires.

The report also mentions that the shepherds that participate in this programme only get around €3 extra per day for being part of the initiative and when asked, one shepherd stated that he was “unlikely to sign up again unless the pay increased and forestry engineers gave more leeway to decide where the goats should graze.”

Forestry official Nuno Sequeira told the New York Times that they are “pleased so far, but the goal is to learn before doing this on a larger scale. We are trying to change a whole system to prevent forest fires, and that takes time.”