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It’s ‘crunch time’ for goats and sheep in urgent fire protection efforts for Santa Barbara front country

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - One bite at a time, goats and sheep are back at work chewing up brush and grasses in high fire zones, including the Eucalyptus Hill area of Santa Barbara. Timing for this is essential, and residents are funding the work.

The drought and dry winter has left the front country vulnerable to fire dangers at the highest level of concern.

The recent Laguna Hills fire disaster was a sign, devastating fires can happen at a moment's notice, or with no notice at all.

Creating fuel breaks around homes, in canyons, and in inaccessible areas is vital.

The goats and sheep can go where some crews can't easily get to and work in poison oak without a concern.

It's proven to be a defense that holds during certain fires that try to snake their way through the rugged properties.

Looking at one area where goats just ate for a couple of weeks, Arborist Dave Gress said, "there was considerably more under growth and grasses in here that was cleared out and it's a big difference from what it was originally."

Loy Beardsmore is the President of the Eucalyptus Hill Improvement Association who has coordinated these types of goat and sheep clearings in recent years. "Would the ideal situation be to keep rotating and keep doing this every few years? Yes, but we are dependent on the homeowners," she said.

The area where the grazing takes place is bordered by a fence and designed by the property owners and the company, in this case, Ventura Brush Goats. Also often seen in the area are sheep from Cuyama Lamb. They have cleared sections of Elings Park.

"We're pleased with the results. We would always like the goats to eat more more but they're doing a good job," said Gress.

The goal is to get the low level grasses down and keep potential fires from climbing into the trees.

Beardsmore said, "they eat what they eat and they don't eat everything. We did as much as we could to eliminate the ladder fuels and that was our goal."

She said goat clearing was effective in areas, for example, in Simi Valley near the Ronald Reagan Library where a fire broke out and slowed down in the cleared areas near the buildings. Goats also clear TV Hill on a regular basis and the Loma Fire last year had less brush to burn, even though it was a frightening fire to watch.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3. To learn more about John, click here.

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