5/28-5/29: Central's Children's Library will be closed due to construction work.

5/21-7/14: Eastside Library will be closed due to construction work.

Central Library's Book Drops will reopen on June 10th. Please come inside or visit Montecito to return items.

Herd of sheep graze at Mission Historical Park to help maintain defensible space ahead of wildfire season

Grazing Sheep Return to Santa Barbara Parks Ahead of Wildfire Season

Authored on

The City of Santa Barbara’s Parks and Recreation and Fire Departments are deploying a herd of sheep to graze approximately 15 acres of open space across four City park properties. The work aims to remove overgrown grass and brush ahead of wildfire season, maintain defensible space between homes and parkland, reduce the risk of wildfire spreading, protect infrastructure, and provide safe access routes for firefighting.

Starting this week, the herd will travel to Franceschi Park, Hale Park, Laurel Canyon Park, and Mission Historical Park, spending a few days grazing in each location before moving to the next park. 

“We require residents in high-fire hazard areas to maintain defensible space on their own properties, and we want to ensure we’re leading by example and being good neighbors by maintaining ours,” said Mark vonTillow, Wildland Specialist for the City’s Fire Department. “Getting people out to see the sheep is a fun way to share what defensible space should look like when the work is done.” 

Grazers, including sheep and goats, have been used in City parks since 2015. While they are an effective tool to create defensible space, measures are being taken to reduce their impact on sensitive biological resources within the parks. Before the herd’s arrival, a biologist will survey each property for nesting birds, and flags and fencing will be installed to protect sensitive plants, like young oak saplings, to ensure the sheep cannot reach them. 

“The sheep are a great option when we want to remove all of the vegetation within a specific location, but they won’t distinguish between the plants we want to keep and those we want to remove,” said Monique O’Conner, the City’s Open Space Planner. “We’re taking time to protect valuable native vegetation before bringing the herd into the parks, and ensuring they stay out of environmentally sensitive areas.”

The grazing schedule has 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 City's Vegetation Management Crew will manually clear areas too sensitive for grazing within the four parks, and handle all defensible space work in Arroyo Burro Open Space, Douglas Family Preserve, Equestrian Circle, Honda Valley Park, Loma Media Park, Orpet Park, Parma Park, Sheffield Reservoir, Skofield Park, Stevens Park, and Sylvan Park. The five-person crew is funded by a CALFIRE grant as part of the City’s Wildfire Resiliency Project

The public is encouraged to visit the sheep during the grazing project and can follow the Parks and Recreation Department on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates on the herd’s location.

Learn more about the ongoing collaboration between the Parks and Recreation Department and Fire Department to reduce the risk and severity of wildfires in Santa Barbara at SantaBarbaraCA.gov/WildfireResiliency