By Lynsey Paulo
AUBURN – Four years after a devastating wildfire ripped through the Sierra foothills town of Auburn, destroying more than 60 homes and businesses, PG&E is helping to reduce the fuel load around its electric and hydroelectric facilities, and the fire risk to the surrounding community.
It’s putting some real ‘teeth’ into the effort.
PG&E’s Department of Natural Resource Management is using hundreds of Spanish Boer Cross goats to reduce timber fuels on 100 acres near where the wildfire burned in 2009.
PG&E has electric transmission, distribution and hydroelectric facilities in the area.
The pilot program includes 874 goats, which are being corralled on portions of PG&E’s Christian Valley Timber Management Unit (TMU) for about two months, in order for the livestock to consume the dense brush and grasses.
“The end result will be a more defensible space that fire agencies will be able to defend,” said Jack Harvey, a PG&E land consultant who is managing the pilot program.
Cal Fire said programs like these are critical to California.
“Reducing the grass and brush helps us tremendously when a wildfire does spark it helps slow it down,” said Daniel Berlant, a Cal Fire spokesman. “Removing grass, removing brush, well ahead of a fire is really what helps our firefighters get in there and successfully put a fire out.”
The goats can remove ladder fuels from ground level to up to seven feet high. They are able to get into remote, steep, and sensitive areas.
“They leave the nutrients on site, amend the soil, consume noxious and invasive weeds, and we’re not using any chemicals or burning significant amounts of fossil fuels. I feel this is helping PG&E meet its goal of being more ecological,” said Harvey.
Neighbors near the site including the Smotherman family, who were told to evacuate their home during the Auburn fire, support the approach.
“I see the fencing, I look up at the goats, I was ecstatic. I thought wow, this is a win-win situation,” said Katy Smotherman. “We’re going to reduce that fuel, we’re going to reduce that fire danger, we get to see the livestock, it’s a great environmental choice.”
Unlike heavy equipment like bulldozers and chainsaws, the goats do not create any traffic congestion, noise pollution or fire danger. Given this year’s extreme fire danger, the goats are allowing PG&E to better protect our lands, facilities, and our communities.
PG&E is supporting the local economy as well, by working with a local contractor.
Flying Mule Farm provides the goats, herders and guardian dogs to protect the livestock. The goats are expected to ‘browse’ (sheep graze) in the area for about two months.
“This project has been very successful and economical. Given that the goats have exceeded in meeting the intent I hope to see this program used more in the future,” said Harvey.
Email Lynsey Paulo at firstname.lastname@example.org.