Animals return to grazing at San Marcos Foothills Preserve
Sheep are officially back at the San Marcos Foothills Preserve to graze the grassland and help prevent wildfires.
More than 400 sheep can be spotted grazing near the trails, suppressing non-native annual grasses and thatch and helping perennial grasses and associated plants thrive.
“Channel Islands Restoration is our partner in restoring the preserve, and they have been using sheep to remove non-native plant species by locating them in a pen and moving the pen as the sheep clear the area,” Jeff Lindgren, the Santa Barbara County Parks superintendent, told the News-Press. “Sheep are good at removing plants.”
The sheep graze in a series of two-acre pastures for a day or two, then move to an adjacent pasture, all over a 30-day period, according to the Channel Islands Restoration website (cirweb.org/blog/smf-grazing).
The goal is to restore grassland providing a habitat for birds such as the western meadowlark and burrowing owl, populations of which have declined dramatically in North America over the past century.
The grazing can be helpful or detrimental, according to the Channel Islands Restoration website. It all depends on when the sheep start and stop grazing; how many sheep there are; how much grass and shrub is available; the state of vegetation (with or without seeds); and the weather.
Cuyama Lamb LLC supplies the sheep. The company provides grazing for fire mitigation, integrated crop management and ecological restoration.
At San Marcos Preserve, the grassland’s Stipa pulchra (Purple Needlegrass) were disappearing due to overcrowding by annual invasive grasses and mustards. Luckily, the sheep came in to help rejuvenate and strengthen the grasses.
Back in September, approximately 100 Cuyama Lamb sheep grazed at Skofield Park in Santa Barbara. Its sheep have also grazed at Elings Park, Arroyo Burro and other various ranches along the Gaviota coast.