After hiking for over a hour in the San Marcos Preserve and surrounding county property in early June, I became very concerned that nothing had been done to cut down the 8- to 10-foot weeds that covered hundreds of acres. If a fire were to break out in heavy winds, it would threaten many homes and buildings in the area.

I wrote to and talked with the County Fire Department, San Marcos Preserve, and county, state, and federal representatives. Senator Limón has a bill to pay for sheep grazing in the Legislature, and the county and preserve will have sheep grazing sometime in August. I am not certain they can eat the very dry and high weeds this late in the year.

With over 20 inches of rain in December and January, the county agencies should have been hard at work planning to get the weeds cut in February or March so that the sheep could be grazing no later than mid-April when the weeds were still edible. Now they need human bodies to be hired to go in and cut safety strips up to 100 yards from streets and 50 yards from homes and other buildings.

The one saving grace if a fire were to break out in late summer or early fall is that leg of lamb could be very cheap in S.B.

Channel Islands Restoration, which often works at the San Marcos Preserve, replied:

Ownership of the West Mesa has been transferred to Santa Barbara County, so Channel Islands Restoration (CIR) is not directly responsible for vegetation clearing at the San Marcos Foothills. That being said, we are actively working to restore the grasslands, so we have attracted several hundred thousand dollars in funding to conduct a grazing program in the area since 2018. This year the Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council has state funding to pay for sheep grazing, and CIR negotiated an agreement to have them graze the San Marcos this summer. The Fire Safe Council is still working on some details that are needed before they can start grazing, but the sheep will eat dried grass so it’s never too late to get the animals in there.

By the way, as part of our grassland restoration work, CIR wishes to facilitate two grazing sessions a year (early and late season). This has been shown to have beneficial effects for the grassland ecology and it reduces fire danger better than just one grazing session. In fact, CIR spent more than $30,000 this year grazing San Marcos during January and February. We inaugurated a fundraising campaign this year by sending a letter to each household in the neighborhoods surrounding the San Marcos Foothills asking for contributions to the grazing campaign. We are hoping to raise $60,000 a year to pay for the early season grazing and rely on state/grant funding for the later season grazing. For neighbors concerned about fire danger, donating to a grazing fund in their neighborhood is a great idea!

By the way, in 2018 the Cave Fire swept through the San Marcos Foothills, and when it reached the areas that we grazed several months before, it laid down. County Fire Division Chief Rob Hazard credits the grazing program for saving the “North La Cumbre Neighborhood” from destruction.

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