Here's how goats and sheep are helping fight the spread of California wildfires

BySilvio Carrillo KGO logo
Saturday, August 21, 2021
Here's how goats and sheep are helping fight CA wildfires
The damage from California's wildfires is getting worse each year. Many property owners are looking for help clearing dry brush surrounding their homes. Meet the people -- and animals -- helping to fight wildfires.

SAN GERONIMO, Calif. (KGO) -- On a foggy morning near San Geronimo, a small mountain community 20 minutes west of Fairfax in Marin County, Silvio Justo, a Peruvian herder, unrolls temporary electric fencing he places around herds of sheep and goats rapidly devouring acres of wild grass surrounding a hilltop home.

The livestock belong to Star Creek Land Stewards. The Los Banos-based company was hired by a local homeowner to clear the brush surrounding the home in an effort to help combat wild fire spread. But, because this year is particularly dry, the project will be completed sooner than anticipated.

"It's not as thick and dense on the ground as it has been in years past. So there's more sparse areas. So our animals are moving through the same acreage...much faster this year," explains Andreé Soares, the company's owner.

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California set a new grim record for wildfires in 2020, over 4 million acres burned according to CAL FIRE. Across the state, many property owners are doing what they can to avoid another record-setting year.

Ruby, Silvio's 2-year-old black and white border collie who lives with him in the company-provided trailer he brings to each site, bounces in the tall grass after him as he hammers fence posts into the mountainsides.

Herders have to make sure to maintain a proper grazing balance that keeps the ground healthy according to Soares' daughter and project manager Bianca Soares.

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"Part of the guys' job is also to assess. Normally I'd be in this paddock for two to three days. But this year, because the feed so thin, I think we're going to move out in one day, we don't want any overgrazing to happen because over grazing could both be dangerous or not as healthy for the soil."

In a few weeks, Silvio will leave for Peru to see his family for the first time in three years. He is on an H2A visa, which allows him to work in the U.S. temporarily as a herder.

"We could not do our job without our herders," says Soares. "They are provided food, housing, and telephones and all their tools they need to do their job. But they are imperative to the work that's done on the ground."

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Company owner Soares says business has picked up in the last few years as more and more people are looking to mitigate damage from wildfires. The upswing in demand not only helps avert disasters but has also helped Silvio's family back in Peru.

"You couldn't even buy a small plot of land in town. But thank God I was able to come here and now own a parcel of land."

Silvio says he wants to keep coming back to work so his children can stay in Peru. He doesn't want them to have to leave to support their own families.

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