A wool-y great way to improve wildfire safety
Haven’t you herd?
Approximately 100 sheep are paying a visit to Santa Barbara to do their civic duty and help the fire prevention efforts.
The Santa Barbara City Fire Department is using sheep to graze overgrown vegetation in attempts to reduce fuels at Skofield Park.
The sheep from Cuyama Lamb LLC arrived Monday and will remain at the park through Oct. 5 thinning overgrowth on seven acres in the southern section of the park.
This form of biological management within the Community Fuels Treatment Network minimizes impact to project areas and reduces overall emissions. It’s funded through the Wildland Fire Suppression Assessment District.
The city has utilized biological management with goats in the past, but the typical method of clearing vegetation is with hand crews who cut the material, pull it to an area where it can be chipped and deliver the chips to community members who request them.
However, the sheep have certain advantages over man.
“Sheep are good at getting a little bit lower on the ground in some areas where it’s hard for hand crews to cut in,” said Chris Braden, the fire services specialist with the Santa Barbara City Fire Department. “They’re good at making their own trail.”
He told the News-Press that using sheep over hand crews is quieter, cheaper and environmentally friendlier than hand crews.
“This is a really positive project for the community,” Mr. Braden said. “We’re always looking at alternate methods to treat vegetation that are cost effective.”
Fire personnel and operators of Cuyama Lamb LLC only have to check in once or twice a day to make sure the sheep are on task and not overgrazing. Once they graze a two to three acre section, personnel bump the fencing to the other areas.
Cuyama Lamb LLC has worked with the Montecito Fire Protection District as well, and its sheep have grazed at Elings Park, the San Marcos Foothills Preserve, Arroyo Burro and various ranches along the Gaviota coast, according to Jenya Schneider, one of the owners and operators of Cuyama Lamb LLC.
“In our current situation in California, we need to use all our tools in the toolbox,” she told the News-Press.
She said using livestock is much more scalable and can cover more acres than hand crews.
“It’s also a much nicer presence in the neighborhood to have some sheep grazing around versus some loud machinery all the time,” Ms. Schneider added.
The fire department requests all visitors of the park to maintain a respectful distance from the sheep and ensure dogs are leashed at all times, or else they will be chased away by guard dogs.
Time “wool” tell if the sheep’s hard work pays off.