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By on March 11, 2021 in News, Newsletter
Executive Director Tom Maloney with Reba the guard dog. Reba watches over the goats day and night, keeping the coyotes and other predators at bay. She blends in well with her herd. Can you find Reba in the banner photo at the top of this post?

If you have recently driven down Santa Ana Road, you may have noticed a small herd of goats grazing the fields at OVLC’s Ventura River Steelhead Preserve. The goats are owned by Elysian Grazing and are volunteering here to help knock back the build-up of non-native thatch in the fields. 

For generations the fields at the Ventura River Steelhead Preserve were heavily grazed by cattle that impacted the soil and led to an abundance of non-native weeds. Luckily, goats are opportunistic browsers, and are happy to munch away at just about anything—even the pokey plants like yellow star thistle! Despite the degraded condition of the fields, in just a couple of months the goats have brought some notable improvements. In pastures where the goats have gobbled up the thatch and exposed some of the ground, we have observed greater use of the fields by wintering savannah sparrows and other birds. 

Native California grasslands support extraordinary plant biodiversity and thankfully, those seeds can persist in the soil for decades. Unfortunately, the “golden hills of California” are now usually dominated by non-native Mediterranean grasses. We are optimistic that the removal of all that thatch through well-managed grazing will give some of the natives a chance to germinate. 

Also, as the threat of catastrophic wildfires continues to increase, communities throughout California are increasing the use of livestock to manage wildland fire fuel loads. With thoughtful management, livestock can help achieve multiple resource benefits for the land beyond just reducing the build-up of non-native vegetation. 

The Ojai Fire Safe Council is promoting a community supported grazing program to enhance the creation of wildland buffers at a much greater scale. In addition to Elysian Grazing, another company has also recently opened its doors in Ojai–Shepherdess Land & Livestock. So, landowners in Ojai can now use adorable 4-legged, self-propelled mowers instead of two-stroke engines to reduce their wildland fuels! 

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