Berryessa Highlands Sheep Grazing Project

Targeted, concentrated grazing is an effective way to remove unwanted vegetation quickly and naturally, particularly on steep terrain that’s difficult for machines to access. Sheep are excellent at “mowing” down tall grass, and goats can tackle an array of prickly and painful plants, like star thistle and poison oak can help remove ladder fuels that could carry fire up into the tree canopy. Goats, sheep, or a combination of both can make short work of low growing excess vegetation. Grazing can be more cost effective when compared to commercial methods and has the added value of returning nutrients to the soil. 

The Berryessa Highlands community is built on steep ridgelines overlooking Lake Berryessa.  The numerous canyons of fire-prone vegetation surrounding the community continues to threaten this community each fire season, and the abundance of tall, dead grass and weeds were a big concern. Utilizing sheep to graze and clear fire fuels from this steep hillside was a natural fit for this remote community. 

Utilizing grant funds from Napa Valley Community Foundation, Napa Firewise identified a 121-acre area to perform sheep grazing, thus reducing the risk of fuels burning and carrying fire into the community. In order to safely utilize and contain the sheep, all 121 acres had to first be cross fenced into 1–2-acre sections with temporary electric fencing. These smaller sections allowed for concentrated grazing of 250-300 sheep in each area. NCFF utilized CAL FIRE Hand Crews to build the fencing. CAL FIRE Crews are available at a reduced cost to NCFF and other public benefit agencies and NCFF estimates that utilizing these crews is approximately 1/10 the cost of using private companies. 

Before the fencing could safely be installed, all the ground fuels had to be removed and reduced to bare minimum soil, thus ensuring all hazards were mitigated before the fencing was turned on. Once installed, the fencing provided faster, more efficient grazing for the community while reducing the vendor’s labor requirements. In exchange, the vendor added an additional 23 acres at no charge, to better protect this community.  This was approximately $23,000 in value added to the project.

The Napa Communities Firewise Foundation (NCFF, aka Napa Firewise) is committed to reducing the risks of wildfire through fire fuel reduction and community education. Managing and reducing fuel loads that surround Napa County communities is critical to protect lives, homes, and businesses. This project was made possible with the use of grant funds from the Napa Valley Community Foundation, with the help to CAL FIRE crews, and with the support of the local residents. Thanks to all for this successful collaboration!