The Shepherd's Staff
Welcome to our community news bulletin!
This article was written by one of The Good Shepherds, a land management organization that provides prescribed grazing services to San Diego County. We visit their paddock every season, as part of our animal husbandry module.
With more than 500,000 acres burned, the Dixie Fire is the second largest in California history. At the time of this writing, the fire is roughly 30% contained.
At one point, the Dixie Fire burned 44,000 acres in one day.
“We’re seeing truly frightening fire behavior. I don’t know how to overstate that,” said Plumas National Forest Supervisor Chris Carlton. Pyrocumulus clouds, dry lightning, firenadoes—these fires create their own weather, making movement hard to predict and conditions unstable. Firefighters on the front lines are concerned for their lives. While meteorologists work on technology to help them predict the locations where these much-wilder wildfires might occur, the Good Shepherds are working to reduce the likelihood of their occurrence.
As usual, the most effective way to address a problem lies at the root: soil. Healthy soil holds water and carbon. Simple as that. When soil is damaged, carbon gets released back into the atmosphere. The result is hotter temperatures, fewer rains, desertification…and extreme fire behavior.
Carbon is present in all organic matter, and it needs to cycle back down to the ground. Sheep and goats eat carbon, poop carbon, and trample carbon. Their activity increases top-soil and activates soil microbiology, helping it coevolve for perennial bunch grasses with deeper root systems. Thus, ground that is regularly grazed holds more water and resists erosion.
So these animals aren’t just adorable lawn-mowers. They’re doing the work that makes land more manageable, and less volatile. When we use tractors and machines to clear brush and weeds, we miss the feedback loop with the soil, further drying and distressing the ground.
Fire is a healthy, predictable part of the native landscape here in California—and healthy, well-maintained landscapes burn in predictable patterns. We don’t want to suppress fire, but there is no reason for catastrophic fire when we have the tools to manage it. We need to employ and support these tools ahead of time.
Shepherd Matthew Sablove says, “Imagine if fire crews faced tended ‘wild’ lands, trails made by ruminants (grazing animals), thinned out brush, and less dead matter stacked in the air to fuel hotter fires. It behooves us all to regenerate lands by being active agents and stewards of nature.”