Firefighting sheep to start arriving Sunday

Sheep will be brought into Carson City's western hills starting this weekend to help make the area less prone to wildfire.

Two flocks of sheep, approximately 1,600 total, will eliminate cheatgrass, perennial grasses and forbs - a herbaceous plant that's not a grass.

The first flock is expected to arrive Sunday morning by truck, and be released behind Greenhouse Garden Center on South Curry Street to eat along C Hill. The second will be walked in from Washoe County early Wednesday, and focus on the Timberline-Lakeview area.

"Sheep are nomadic, they have to move," said Ann Bollinger, the city's open space assistant.

The sheep are expected to graze up to 2,500 acres on the west side during the next 30 to 45 days, she said.

Cheatgrass grows and dries out faster than other vegetation in the area, but it has been a dry year so growth in wild areas across the state is flammable.

"The sheep are fantastic, said Pete Anderson, state forester. "They're an excellent tool to take that fine fuel and crop it off. It makes a huge difference."

The state is considering using grazing to reduce fire fuels in other communities, such as Austin, he said.

Area rancher Ted Borda, of Borda Land & Sheep Co., will provide the sheep and handle the grazing in Carson.

"There's not enough moisture to get the larger fields saturated, and we're dealing with June and July conditions," Anderson said. "Some years we get a wet spring, that's our hope this year."

Residents are welcome to come up into the hills and watch the sheep do their job, though Bollinger advised that dogs should be left at home or, at least, be kept on a leash. This is because the sheep have a guard dog entourage trained to attack potential predators, such as coyotes.

Nighttime visits are also discouraged because the sheep - and their handlers - will be resting, she said.

Groups interested in visiting the sheep can contact the city's Parks and Recreation Department, 887-2115, for details.

The first local fire fuels reduction using sheep happened in May 1999, when 350 sheep were taken to C Hill and allowed to graze in an effort to create a 200-foot firebreak. This University of Nevada Cooperative Extension project was created to watch the sheep and evaluate how the animals could help protect against wildfires.

Goats are expected to come in this summer to continue eating dry plant material, Bollinger added.

For your information

Call the Carson City Parks and Recreation Department, 887-2115, to schedule a group visit with the sheep or learn more about the project.

• Contact reporter Terri Harber at tharber or 882-2111, ext. 215.


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