Roughly 800 sheep are grazing through city parks over the next couple of months to help sustainably reduce fire risk.
The sheep started clearing weeds in North Natomas Regional Park in late April and will move on to other areas as part of the city’s grazing program.
Sacramento has expanded the program every year since it began in 2021, said Shawn Aylesworth, the city’s park maintenance manager. Unlike tractors and heavy machinery, Aylesworth said grazing animals don’t require diesel fuel to clear weeds.
After the rainy winter, Aylesworth said the sheep have more vegetation to eat than they did the past two years.
“This year in particular, the rains … really has given the weeds an opportunity to take off,” Aylesworth said. “We are definitely working to catch up and the abundance of weeds is probably higher than it's been in any time in the last three years.”
Sheep produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than tractors and also don’t run the risk of sparking fires, he added. Grazing animals can also get into tighter areas, such as between trees, more easily.
Sheep graze at North Natomas Regional Park as part of a city effort to reduce fire risk in Sacramento, Calif. Friday, April 28, 2023.Andrew Nixon / CapRadio
�Sheep graze at North Natomas Regional Park as part of a city effort to reduce fire risk in Sacramento, Calif. Friday, April 28, 2023.Andrew Nixon / CapRadio
The city has brought in a mix of goats and sheep in the past, but Aylesworth said the type of animals used depends on the contracted ranchers. Sheep generally consume more weeds than goats because of their larger size and metabolism, he added.
Aylesworth said he expects the sheep to graze at North Natomas Regional Park until mid-May. The sheep will then head to Del Paso Regional Park, where they could graze for another three to four weeks. Sacramento also plans to bring grazing animals to Chorley Park, Chicory Bend Park and the North Laguna Creek Wildlife Area.
Visitors are welcome to see the sheep, but the city asks people not to disturb them. On Friday morning, the sheep grazed behind a fence near a lake at North Natomas park. A few people walking past paused to watch them.
“We have a lot of visitors that come to look at the sheep as they’re grazing,” Aylesworth said. “Children in particular, they love to come and watch the sheep graze. It's been extremely popular and again very beneficial for the environment overall.”
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