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Here is what it said on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, a newspaper which sells 1,098,347 copies per weekday, and therefore needs lots of “news” to print. It said, “They eat everything in their path, these goats employed by the city of Laguna Beach, (Calif.)” That’s what it said. Now I can imagine that juxtaposition of the words “goats employed by the city” might be a novelty for many of you. Most of you live in cities which don’t employ goats. In fact, the whole concept of employing goats is probably foreign to you. When you decide you need to hire someone to file your lawsuit, or type your brief, or lift your face, you probably don’t give much consideration to hiring a goat. Goats would probably have been near the top of your list of unemployables. Right up there with puff adders and linebackers. This is a not uncommon prejudice. I think most employers are reluctant to hire an applicant who would rather eat the application than sign it. But not me. I live in Laguna Beach. I live there because it’s slightly less expensive (although only slightly) — and every bit as strange — as living on the planet Pluto. If the word “nuthatch” had not already been appropriated for a bird, it would long ago have been applied to Laguna. I don’t know if they actually “hatch” here, but SoCal’s … shall we say, “least conventional” … denizens gravitate to this place like pine trees seem to seek out forests. It’s Berkeley without a foreign policy. Middle Earth with BMWs. This is where Alice went when she chased the white rabbit into its burrow. About the only thing considered peculiar in Laguna Beach is the rest of the world. So when I pick up the paper and find out the front-page news in the Los Angeles Times has to do with our goat employees, I’m not even fazed. I know we’ve got goat employees. We’ve had ‘em since 1990. We use ‘em to reduce the fire hazard by gobbling up brush all over Laguna’s craggy wilderness east side. I had some problems with this 10 years ago. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. The timing seemed all wrong to me. At the same time Laguna Beach was dropping by the hiring hall of United Goat Workers Local 660, something called the “Catalina Conservancy” was shooting goats on Catalina Island because they were turning the island “into a lunar landscape.” Seemed to me there were some serious equal protection problems involved in executing goats on Catalina and giving them government jobs 26 miles east in Laguna. I was also concerned about workers’ compensation. Just what were we gonna do if John Doe Goat #421 gobbled up some fireweed and got seriously stressed out? What kind of expert do you call in to compute goat disability? I just knew this was gonna end up in my court somehow, and I was gonna end up reviewing the curriculum vitae of a bunch of forensic goatherds. But none of that came to pass. Laguna hired 600 goats, two Peruvian goatherds, and a dog, and turned the Noah’s Ark All-Stars loose on our most inaccessible hillsides. It worked like a charm. They kept the weeds down, and they provided this antic little hamlet with the world’s only floating municipal petting zoo. I fed them carrots until we began to worry that I might get them fired for moonlighting. Apparently it went so well other places adopted caprine fire prevention. Oakland, Calif., now uses goats to nibble Panoramic Hill; Los Angeles turned them loose in Malibu and the foothills of the Angeles National Forest. They became so popular there was a run on goats. According to the Times, “a recent rush on the animals led Berkeley to briefly try sheep and cattle.” In short, it’s been a big success. Goats are apparently even more omnivorous than I am: I will not eat anywhere that has a sommelier or a 400-foot climb to the food; goats are deterred by neither. And, like me, they pretty much clean their plate. Their job is to eat a firebreak around the Laguna Beach Hills, and the Times says they do it for about a million dollars less per year than it would cost to get humans to do the work — and that’s assuming you could get humans to eat that stuff, which I personally consider pretty dubious. But there’s always a hook. Turns out the goats aren’t ecologically correct. A local biologist complains that the goats, to use the formal, biological terminology, shat in the wrong places. Said one Elisabeth Brown, “They swallow seeds from one canyon and deposit them in their droppings in the next one. They’re eating stuff over here and [leaving] it over there. It’s not good. And it looks like hell to boot.” Wow! You mean all this time we’ve been using un-housebroken goats? Goats with underdeveloped aesthetic sensibilities? How could this happen? Somebody check the goats’ employment applications and see if they lied about their “[leaving]” propensities. I’m sorry, folks, but I’m having a hard time seeing this as Stop-the-Presses-Man-Bites-Dog-Dewey- Defeats-Truman-Front-Page-of-the- Los-Angeles-For-Crying-Out-Loud -Times-News. This is goat shit. Literally. But I may be — once again — missing the ecological forest because the ecological trees are in the way. The Times found a second scientist to wring his hands over the goats. They quote an “ecology instructor” from a local school as saying, “We think we’re doing something for the greater good, but really, what we’re doing is changing things without knowing how it’s going to change things. We may never know what all of the long-term consequences are.” Long-term consequences? Chill out, man. It’s not like the goats are bringing back Ebola virus from central Africa. They’re eating weeds on one hillside and dropping them the next day on another hillside 100 yards away. Unless we’re hit with a serious outbreak of goat constipation — something not previously recorded in all the colorful history of Laguna Beach — followed immediately by a bunch of goats going over the wall and hightailing it to Mission Viejo, Calif., to propagate their foreign seed, it doesn’t seem likely that the evolution of coastal plant species is going to be seriously impacted. The long-term consequences are that 20 years from now the weeds behind my house will be the weeds behind the elementary school down the street. And the very long-term consequences are that in 100 years, the weeds behind my house will be the weeds behind my house again. If, as Ms. Brown postulates, each cycle of goat mowing moves the weeds one canyon over, they will eventually end up back where they belong. It’s all part of the well-established scientific principle known as the cycle of life. Didn’t these people listen to Rafiki when he counseled Simba? How do I know all this? Because I am a goat. I’m a Court of Appeal justice. My job is to eat up my colleagues’ decisions, recycle them into my own, and thereby move the law around from place to place. We may change the flora somewhat at any given time, but we never move things around so much as to damage the ecosystem. And in so doing, we limit the Supreme Court’s work to manageable brushfires, and avoid a conflagration so big even they can’t put it out. We eat up everything in our path, we old goats employed by the State of California. William W. Bedsworth is an associate justice at California’s 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana.

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