PASO ROBLES, Calif. -- The City of Paso Robles started an operation Monday morning to clear out dangerous overgrowth in the Salinas Riverbed using livestock.
The city contracted with a company called The Goat Girls to graze approximately 15 acres of vegetation.
"We're mitigating fire hazard, by maintaining the vegetation in the Salinas Riverbed." said Catherine Ohsam, The Goat Girls co-owner. "(The riverbed) runs through the heart of Paso Robles, so it poses a significant threat to the city if it ever did catch fire. To be part of this and help the community stay safe with using our animals is really great."
The project started at Larry Moore Park and was planned to move north along River Walk to Navajo Road, and west under Niblick Bridge.
About 250 head of goats and sheep are taking part in the nearly two-week long project.
"They have a wide array of their diet," said Ohsam. "They'll eat the grasses, the weeds, the trees, the shrubs. They clean up everything on the ground floor as well. They trample things. They break bushes down as to minimize the profile of the plant, if there were ever a fire that it's not tall and standing, and carries the fire into the canopy of trees."
The sheep will graze on finer grasses, while the goats will knock down thicker brush and shrubs.
The Salinas Riverbed has long been an area of concern for Paso Robles for its fire danger.
According to the Paso Robles Department, there have been a reported 425 fires within the riverbed area since 2017, including 90 last year.
"There is a significant threat of wildfire within the Salinas River," said Paso Robles Fire Department Battalion Chief Jay Enns. "In the last few years, there's been a major increase in the number of fires in the riverbed. Now, we're starting to see fires transition out of the riverbed and threatening the community."
In June, a 15-acre fire destroyed two houses, damaged nine others, and forced the evacuation of thousands of people.
"There is a lot of potential within the riverbed if left untreated, and so, by getting in here and being aggressive, and getting it treated, we stand a lot better chance when a fire does happen in the river," said Enns. "It gives our firefighters a safe place to anchor in and make access to the fire."
Ennis said the city has performed a number of clean-up operations in the riverbed, utilizing a variety of methods, including hand crews using mowers, trimmers, chippers, chainsaws and masticators.
"We were looking at all the options that were available to us, and within the Salinas River, there's a lot of variation in the terrain, and so it's not easily accessible for mechanized equipment, and so this is just another tool," said Enns. "The goats and the sheep are just another treatment method."
With temperatures soaring well about triple-digits this week, one advantage the animals provide is an ability to work in extreme heat.
"All they're doing is eating," said Ohsam. "They're not guys chainsawing or chipping, or working equipment. The girls just tootle around. They eat, they take a nap."
Ohsam added the animals drink plenty of water during the day. She said the company brought 550 gallons of water for the livestock on Monday.
The livestock operation is scheduled to be completed before August, 31, 2020.
If the project is successful, the city will later identify a larger area for treatment for the Spring 2021, prior to the start of the 2021 fire season.