Sheep to protect city from wildfires
Appeal Staff Writer
A guard dog raises its head and nearby sheep begin to moan like old men imitating ghosts.
“Maaaaa!” they say. “Maaaaa!”
Some of them run down C Hill to get into smaller groups. City Open Space Manager Juan Guzman smiles.
“I don’t think they want us here,” he says.
The city, however, wants them where they are. It is the third year it has used the animals to eat flammable cheatgrass on thousands of acres of public and private land ranging from the Kings Canyon area to Lakeview Estates.
The grazing helps prevent wildfires, Guzman said, and it is inexpensive compared to herbicides, controlled burns or mechanical equipment.
Two flocks of about 150 sheep each will graze in the city for the next few weeks.
Cheatgrass is a “horrendous fuel” and spreads fires rapidly, said John McLain of Resource Concepts Inc., who did a study on the sheep grazing for the city in 2006.
It is “very effective,” he said, in preventing fires near urban areas such as the 1988 C Hill and 2004 Waterfall fires.
Besides destroying homes, fires involving cheatgrass can also burn hot enough to devastate the environment by destroying the soil.
The grazing was first tested in the city in 1999 by the University of Nevada, Reno, cooperative extension.
The method worked well, said Ed Smith, who was part of the project, and the sheep could destroy cheatgrass in steep places that other methods could get to.
It also doesn’t bother people living nearby like equipment could, he said, and didn’t raise concerns like herbicides do.
“You wouldn’t use a hammer to saw a board in half,” he said.
The sheep are moved to the areas in a four-level truck, said rancher Ted Borda, and guided by a sheep herder, a guard dog and two herding dogs,
Sheep are “smorgasbord eaters,” said Borda, whose company provides the sheep, and they like graze on a lot of different vegetation, including supple cheatgrass.
A sheep herder has a hard job, though, he said, and always has to watch out for the sheep’s safety.
He said last year the company lost sheep to a mountain lion, bobcat, coyote and bear.
• Contact reporter Dave Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1212.