Since 2013, the CDA has hired a herd of goats, sheep, llamas and burros to clear dense scrub vegetation on O’Hare property. The grazing sites include hilly areas along Willow-Higgins Creek that are difficult to maintain with traditional landscaping equipment.
All of the sites are located in areas away from or separated from the airfield by security fencing. To assist in the Sustainable Vegetation Management initiative at O'Hare, the grazing herd returned for the 2014 season with over 40 animals from Settlers Pond, an animal rescue facility in Beecher, IL. Their grazing helps to eliminate habitat for birds and other wildlife that can pose safety hazards for the airport.
In 2014, the CDA expanded its partnership with USDA Wildlife Biologists at O'Hare in order to quantify the results and benefits of the grazing herd on airport property through a formal research project. In addition, the CDA has added a new partner with the 4H Youth Program at the University of Illinois Extension in St. Charles, IL to involve students in the care of such rescue animals at Settlers Pond.
The pilot program is another example of an aviation industry-leading initiative that highlights the CDA's commitment to sustainability.
Benefits of the O'Hare Grazing Herd
The grazing program helps the CDA achieve many economic, operational and environmental benefits including:
- Provide a more efficient way of removing vegetation along steep embankments and rocky areas that are difficult to maintain with traditional mowing or spraying
- Reduce habitat for wildlife that may be hazardous to airport operations
- Decrease landscape maintenance costs including fuel, labor, herbicides and equipment
- Provide an alternative to toxic herbicides
- Reduce the use of heavy equipment, minimizing soil erosion
- Reduce the use of lawnmowers, trimmers and weed-eaters that emit carbon dioxide and other pollutants
- Eliminate mowing/landscape debris and transportation of debris to landfills
- Clear poison ivy, poison oak and other noxious weeds and invasive species