Grazers, including goats and sheep, have been used in Santa Barbara city parks since 2015, but many parks, like Mission Historical Park, are receiving the treatment for the first time.
A herd of 275 sheep is set to graze about 25 acres across five parks ahead of wildfire season. The project, led by the Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department, in collaboration with the city Fire Department, aims to maintain defensible space between homes and parkland by removing overgrown grasses and brush from the park properties.
The work is intended to reduce the risk of wildfire spreading, protect infrastructure, and provide safe access routes for firefighting if needed.
From late May through June, the herd will graze at Hale Park, Parma Park, Laurel Canyon Park, Franceschi Park, and Mission Historical Park. The herd will spend a few days grazing in each location before moving to the next park.
While grazers are an effective tool to create defensible space, measures are being taken by the Parks Department to reduce the impacts on sensitive biological resources within the parks. Before the herd’s arrival, each property will be surveyed by a qualified biologist for actively nesting birds.
Additionally, flags and fencing will be installed to protect specific vegetation, like young oak saplings, to ensure the sheep cannot reach them.
“Grazers won’t distinguish between the plants we want to keep and those we want to remove, so we are taking an active step in protecting those plants before bringing the animals into the parks,” said Monique O’Conner, the city’s Open Space planner.
“We won’t use them in environmentally sensitive areas, but they are a great option when we are trying to remove all of the vegetation within a specific location,” she said.
The order of the grazing schedule has also been designed to reduce the likelihood of introducing new invasive plants into any of the parks during the process, as the animals’ droppings can spread the seeds of the invasive plants.
The most notable stop on the grazing schedule is Mission Historical Park. Having the sheep visit the park, which is managed independently of neighboring Old Mission Santa Barbara, will allow community members who cannot hike through the other parks the opportunity to see the animals in action.
Community members are urged to visit the parks to view the sheep during the grazing project and can follow the Parks and Recreation Department on social media (@sbparksandrec) for updates on the herd’s location.