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Sheep enlisted to help fight against non-native plants in northern Nevada

by Cody Miller, KSNV-TV (Las Vegas) |

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Typically, to prevent wildfires from starting on federally or state-controlled land, officials remove or trim trees, cut down vegetation and perform controlled burns so that an uncontrolled burn is less likely.

Still, there are other ways to get rid of aggressive species displacing wildlife, nuisance vegetation that acts as hazardous fuels. Sheep represent one such alternative method.

They’re the solution to beating back cheatgrass, a non-native vegetation that is also a fuel for fires and is currently out-competing native plant species near the Arrow Creek community in Reno.

Duels Specialist Steve Howell said, “It eventually pushes out our native grasses and shrubs from their natural habitat. Cheatgrass plants also create an exceptional fuel bed for wildfire spread and can be a threat to communities.”

The effort is part of the Arrowhawk Fuels Reduction Project and aims to remove the cheatgrass from watersheds at Thomas Creek and Whites Creek. The sheep are coming from the Borda Land & Sheep Company in Gardnerville, Nev., which has been contracted to perform the grazing project.

Roughly 800 ewes will be released and monitored by herders and livestock guard dogs.

“This program is an important collaboration to help keep the Arrowcreek and surrounding communities safe from destructive wildfire," said Carson District Ranger Matt Zumstein.

Using grazing as a way to reduce invasive species and lower the risk of destructive wildfires is cost-effective and low-impact as well as natural.

The area where the sheep will be grazing is popular with hikers, especially those with dogs, and rangers are reminding those hikers to leash their dogs after a number of previous incidents involving sheep being harassed.