Sheep return to graze, reduce fire risk in Carson City, Nevada |

Sheep return to graze, reduce fire risk in Carson City, Nevada

Sheep graze on invasive species including cheat grass Thursday in Carson City.
Brad Coman/Nevada Appeal |

They’re back.

About 800 ewes with 1,100 lambs have returned to graze the hills on Carson City’s west side.

“We call them our little firefighters,” said Tom Tarulli, assistant fire chief, Carson City Fire department watching the sheep Thursday as they began their journey.

The sheep will spend four to six weeks here eating cheatgrass, the highly-flammable weed.

The animals’ arrival has been a familiar spring ritual since 2006 when they were first brought in to provide cost-effective fuels reduction after the 2004 Waterfall Fire.

“The timing is very important because if the cheatgrass sets to seed it’s not as appealing to the sheep,” said Rich Wilkinson, senior natural resources specialist with the city. “They’ve become kind of a popular sight, and we want people to come and watch them, but we want to give the sheep some distance and for people to keep their dogs on a leash.”

With the sheep come round-the-clock sheepherders and their working dogs, who are there to both manage and protect the herd.

The sheep came in trailers in a half dozen deliveries from Borda Land & Sheep Co. in Gardnerville.

“No money is exchanged,” said Annabelle Monti, fuels forester with the U.S. Forest Service, because the work is equally beneficial for Borda and the city.

The sheep will graze about 2,000 acres of land that will be a mix of private, city, USFS and Nevada Division of State Lands property.

Sheep are effective and less costly than other fuels reduction measures, said Wilkinson. “There are mechanical treatments, but they’re costly and not feasible on some of the higher hills,” he said.

By eating the cheatgrass, the sheep also give native plants a fighting chance.

“Cheatgrass germinates in the fall and matures early and basically steals all the nutrients and water,” said Wilkinson.

It’s not the only action the city takes.

“It’s just one tool,” said Ann Bollinger, natural resource specialist with parks department. “We use hand labor and machinery to clear the brush, too.”

The herd should be visible on the hills behind Curry Street near Rhodes Streets through the weekend, before they head north to cover more land.

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