For the first time, San Bernardino County is using goats in their fire prevention measures. The animals are used to clear dry grasses in undeveloped areas that put hundreds of nearby residents at risk. KVCR’s Megan Jamerson went to see the animals in action in the city of San Bernardino.
Husband and wife Michael and Shawn Martinez, have lived in the Shandin Hills neighborhood for 16 years. They are diligent about maintaining their own fire break behind their home, but were pleased to see goats clearing the nearby undeveloped golden-brown hills. So, they drove to the hilltop on Ridge Line Drive to see the animals up close.
“We’ve just been enjoying watching the goats for the last week," said Martinez. "And it also makes us sleep better at night knowing that a lot of this brush is going to be taken away because when the Santa Ana winds blow up here, when you live up here, you are always concerned.”
350 goats including their kids, are clearing 50 acres through their munching on West Little Mountain and East Little Mountain to create a 100 foot fire break and defensible space. This means if a wild land fire happens, homes are better protected.
During a press event in the neighborhood on Tuesday, Dan Munsey the county fire chief, says he fought his first fire on this very hill and every year his crews return to fight more fires. He is hopeful that partnering with the community to identify risks and using the goats to mitigate them will reduce the 150,000 plus calls they get for service each year.
“The community is out here in support. They are going to have goats on their hills. They smell a little bit funny. I’m sorry about that," said Munsey. "But one of the benefits is we are going to be able to remove this fuel before a fire starts.”
Goat grazing is seen as a more environmentally friendly alternative to controlled burns for reaching the rugged terrain surrounding many Southern California communities like this one. Burns often lead to crew injuries and the smoke can be harmful to residents. Goats are just as effective as controlled burns at handling the steep hills and have added bonuses for the land says Johnny Gonzales, operation manager for the company responsible for the animals used here in San Bernardino.
“The beautiful thing about the goats, they are not just replacing weed eating, they are actually converting the grasses into nutrients,” said Gonzales.
Goats are more inclined to eat invasive plants which helps prevent them from growing back, and their manure provides food to native plants. Gonzales says has seen the use of goats become more common in past 21 years as he has operated the business in communities from downtown Los Angeles to the coast in Orange County.
“It really isn’t anything new, it’s just that we are just re-introducing them back to use," said Gonzales. "We’re really just getting back in touch with nature.”
He says the animals have become really popular, and a staple of the Southern California environment. And just then, two cars drove up with young children eager to get a closer look.