Firefighting Goats Deployed at TomKat Ranch
New research shows fuel-moisture in vegetation across the South Bay at record lows, sparking concerns 2021 could bring more large wildfires
April 14, 2021 (Pescadero, CA) — About 850 goats are chomping down on combustible weeds and brush at TomKat Ranch before California’s wildfire season starts this summer. New research shows vegetation in the South Bay and Santa Cruz Mountains contains record-breaking low moisture levels, causing concerns that the 2021 fire season could be especially grim.
“With some of the worst fires recorded last year, goats are an important eco-friendly tool in our arsenal of fire mitigation strategies,” said Kat Taylor, Founder of TomKat Ranch. “This Earth Day, grazing goats are an important reminder of how California can adopt regenerative practices to create a fire resilient ecosystem, improve the health of our lands, and restore natural ecological cycles on which we all depend.”
Vegetation across the South Bay and Santa Cruz Mountains has a record low ratio of moisture to combustible material, otherwise known as fuel-moisture content (FMC), according to researchers from San Jose State University’s Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center. April plant samples from Blackberry Hill — about 37 miles from TomKat Ranch — revealed shockingly low numbers. The average FMC for this site is 137% and the previous low was 115%. This year it was 97% — well below normal moisture content levels.
On the heels of the third driest year on record, TomKat Ranch has teamed up with Goatapelli Foundation and their herd of 26th generation “browsers” to remove dry, parched vegetation in the hopes that wildfires will not start as easily or spread as rapidly.
When it comes to wildfire suppression, goats don’t kid around. Browsers, like goats and sheep, prefer to eat weeds and brush and move through the land while eating. “Grazers,” like cows, spend most of their time eating grass. Goats will eat up to 10 lbs of vegetation per day, creating firebreaks by reducing the volume, thickness, height, and breadth of brush, restoring areas to a more balanced state. When eating, goats consume flower heads, weeds, poisonous and even noxious weed vegetation. By grinding the seeds in the flower heads and leaves, they stop natural re-growth providing a sustainable alternative to the conventional approach of using power tools.
Goat hooves also play an important role in creating soil that is healthy and holds air and moisture. When they stomp around, they aerate the soil and trample plant matter aiding the breakdown of nutrients by fungi and bacteria and boosting soil health including its potential for water retention — particularly important when vegetation moisture levels are low. Maintaining healthy soils is important because it increases biodiversity, encourages plant growth and health, and supports flood and drought resistance.
“Our goats are moved strategically across the landscape. The 45-ton herd moves perpendicular to the slope of the hill, mitigating down-flow of soil and water,” said Lani Malmberg, who spends most of her time traveling with her herd of Cashmere goats. “They bring ‘living energy’ to the system and address plant species shifts in our rapidly changing climate. The herd is self-propelled through this rugged terrain, stabilizing soils and trampling the recycled vegetation into the steep hillsides, preventing erosion and run-off.”
Last year, California saw its largest wildfire season with 10,000 wildfires burning over 4.2 million acres, more than 4 percent of the state’s roughly 100 million acres of land, according to Cal Fire. The CZU Lightning Complex devoured more than 86,000 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains and threatened the town of Pescadero, where TomKat Ranch is located. Since then, TomKat Ranch has engaged in a comprehensive fire management program, including partnering with Cal Fire’s Vegetation Management Program for prescribed burns of 30 to 50 acres each year.
“TomKat Ranch is literally the last line of defense before the town of Pescadero,” said Wendy Millet, Director of TomKat Ranch. “As climate change intensifies California’s wildfire fire season, we will continue to use regenerative fire mitigation trials and share our learnings with the public.”
Grazing and prescribed burns are nothing new in fire management. For millennia, Native Americans grazed animals among trees using a practice now known as silvopasture, including the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, which engaged in prescribed burns on the South Coast.
TomKat Ranch encourages ecological-friendly ways to reduce fire fuels. We recommend you check your local area to find goat grazing in your neighborhood.
Here is a list to get you started: Falk Livestock and Land, Star Creek Land Stewards Inc., Kaos Sheep Outfit, BCB Shepherdess, Goats R Us, and Gonzalez Brush Buster Goats.
ABOUT TOMKAT RANCH
TomKat Ranch is a learning laboratory and educational center in Pescadero, CA with a mission to provide healthy food on working lands in a way that regenerates the planet and inspires others to action. They focus on issues of equity and social justice as well as regenerating land to improve soil health, climate stability, water quality and availability, animal welfare, human health, economic prosperity, and biodiversity.
ABOUT GOATAPELI FOUNDATION
Goatapelli Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides education, training, support, and career opportunities for using managed grazing as a tool to restore abused lands and reconnect people with our living landscape. Lani Malmberg, founder of Goatapelli, has been grazing goats since 1996 when she bought her first herd after earning a masters degree in weed science from Colorado State College at Fort Collins. Traveling alongside the goats, Lani has grazed throughout areas in western US states, including Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Texas and Hawai’i focused on promoting managed grazing for fire prevention, watershed health, reclamation, erosion mitigation and weed management.