The 65 members of the Sunflower Coordinated Resource Management Program (SCRMP) are working to mitigate the fire danger that lurks in the chaparral lands of the West. Together the group of landowners and government agencies manages 40,000 acres running from 1,000 feet to 5,500 in elevation. SCRMP has mechanically cleared 30 miles of ridge lines to form 300-foot-wide fuel breaks and cleared 2,500 acres of land through prescribed burning. They realize fire and mechanical treatments are only stopgap measures, so they’ve been testing small numbers of goats to see if they can prevent chaparral regrowth and, at the same time, produce a marketable commodity. This project builds on those favorable results by assessing the feed value of the brush so they can formulate what supplements may been needed to sustain the goats, especially their reproductive health.
The purpose of this grant was to begin an evaluation using meat goats and hair sheep as a biological tool to reduce fire hazard and enhance the utilization of chaparral species. The ultimate purpose is to develop a sustainable system whereby the return from the grazing mob will pay for the management costs.
During a 12-month period, the Sunflower Coordinated Resource Management Program used 800 sheep and goats to graze/browse more than 40 miles of fuel breaks in the chaparral belt. More than 5,000 acres were impacted.
Coordinating the goat and sheep mob and being involved with day-to-day operation and logistics of supporting a full-time Peruvian herder, sometimes over many miles of treacherous four-wheel-drive roads, results in a steep learning curve. At the same time, the project team has worked closely with landowners in the SCRMP to work out their desires for land management that often differs from others, including wildlife management, forest management, fire control, weed control and aesthetics. It was often difficult to reach consensus among 65 landowners on 40,000 acres as each owner often had different objectives. In addition, many monitoring protocols were being implemented in the effort to reduce biomass on fuel breaks and maintain the health and productivity of the “biological masticators” (the sheep and goats).
The following are outcomes from the grazing/browsing at the time of this report:
• CRMP landowners are please with and amazed at the amount of brush and weedy forbs being consumed.
• Agency responses have been favorable, particularly toward the positive impact on riparian zone stimulation and wildlife enhancement (mainly owing to the mineralization of the brush back into the ground via dung).
• The forestland owner (in and out of the CRMP) is pleased with the results on the shaded fuel breaks.
• Several local ranchers are impressed with the system and are planning to duplicate the process, with one rancher already employing a 100-head mob.
(A detailed report, “Goats in the Chaparral – Nutritional Resources for Animals Employed in Fire Fuel Reduction,” is available from the project coordinator, Bill Burrows, or the technical advisor, Wolfgang Pittroff.)
RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
The project team identified four major challenges that need to be overcome to develop a long-term, financially sustainable system.
1. Labor costs (mainly for herders) are higher than expected. There is a need to expand the mob to 1,200 producing females as a way to spread labor costs over more animals. One herder can handle 1,200 animals, except for special events like major moves, kidding and medical treatment. Volunteer labor has been helpful.
2. Protein supplements are expensive. The project team is working with culled blackeye beans to help meet the protein needs of the animals as well as to provide energy at specific times. Culled blackeye beans are considerably less expensive than other protein sources.
3. More in-the-field animal performance detail is needed to better manage chaparral species at different seasons and elevations. This challenge needs to be appraised through scientific evaluation.
4. More work needs to be done on feed additives and supplements to stimulate animals to select targeted brush species for weed control in conifer plantation plantings, fuel breaks or both. More field research needs to be conducted toward this end.
DISSEMINATION OF FINDINGS
The exposure of the project via newspaper articles, field days and PowerPoint presentations to service clubs and community groups has been positive.