Not a ba-a-a-a-a-a-d job
What could the local fire department possibly want to do with 50 hungry South African hair sheep?
In an experiment never implemented before in California with imported sheep, they are being used to maintain a fire fuel break along Tyler Foote Road from Columbia Hill to Snow Tent Springs.
This African breed of sheep -“Dorper” sheep – will eat anything, including poison oak, manzanita and star thistle, a gluttonous quality the California Department of Forestry and the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County are counting on to prevent new growth in the shaded break, already cleared by CDF fire crews.
“They’re nonselective grazers,” said Jake Zanocco, the Columbia Hill rancher who donated the sheep for the project. “The breed survived a 7-year drought in Africa.”
These tough sheep are also the perfect choice for stamping out local weed sprouts, said CDF Nevada Yuba Placer Chief Rob Paulus, because they’re much more environmentally friendly than herbicides and won’t cause erosion.
“They’re light on the land,” he said. “They won’t be grazing down to bare dirt.”
The sheep, confined with a battery-charged portable electric fence, will be moved a couple of acres along the break every week to ensure even trimming of the entire break.
Three six-month-old Great Pyrenees pups also live with the sheep, not to herd them, but to protect them from domestic dogs, coyotes and other predators.
“They see the sheep as their pack,” Zanocco said. “They’ve bonded with them.”
The dogs, which Zanocco purchased from a Grass Valley couple, are not being socialized to live with people, and will spend all of their time in the fenced 2-acre area with the sheep.
Zanocco said he gladly donated the sheep for the cause because the alternative – mechanical maintenance of his 1,500 acres – would cost him thousands of dollars more every year.
Firefighters with CDF will stop by weekly to move and water the animals, said CDF Public Information Officer Tina Rose.
“If you don’t kill the regrowth,” Rose said, “All of your work will be for nothing.”
The inexpensive project – $2,000 for fencing – is funded by the Fire Safe Council’s $25,000 fuel break maintenance fund generated by revenue from sale of timber harvested on the private land surrounding the fuel break.
Participating landowners donated the timber to the Fire Safe Council in exchange for tax-write offs.
The maintenance fund is attached to a $180,000 federal grant secured by the Fire Safe Council in 2002 for the creation of a 7-mile, 400-feet wide fuel break along Tyler Foote Road.
Brush-clearing for the break is not complete in higher elevations near Snow Tent Springs, said Fire Safe Council Executive Director Michelle Phillips, because snow pack has prevented fire crews from getting to the brush.
She said fire crews hope to resume the next phase of clearing in higher elevations this summer.
To contact staff writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4236.
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