With more than 500,000 acres burned, the Dixie Fire is the second largest in California history. At the time of this writing, the fire is roughly 30% contained.
At one point, the Dixie Fire burned 44,000 acres in one day.
“We’re seeing truly frightening fire behavior. I don’t know how to overstate that,” said Plumas National Forest Supervisor Chris Carlton. Pyrocumulus clouds, dry lightning, firenadoes—these fires create their own weather, making movement hard to predict and conditions unstable. Firefighters on the front lines are concerned for their lives. While meteorologists work on technology to help them predict the locations where these much-wilder wildfires might occur, the Good Shepherds are working to reduce the likelihood of their occurrence.
As usual, the most effective way to address a problem lies at the root: soil. Healthy soil holds water and carbon. Simple as that. When soil is damaged, carbon gets released back into the atmosphere. The result is hotter temperatures, fewer rains, desertification…and extreme fire behavior.
Carbon is present in all organic matter, and it needs to cycle back down to the ground. Sheep and goats eat carbon, poop carbon, and trample carbon. Their activity increases top-soil and activates soil microbiology, helping it coevolve for perennial bunch grasses with deeper root systems. Thus, ground that is regularly grazed holds more water and resists erosion.
So these animals aren’t just adorable lawn-mowers. They’re doing the work that makes land more manageable, and less volatile. When we use tractors and machines to clear brush and weeds, we miss the feedback loop with the soil, further drying and distressing the ground.
Fire is a healthy, predictable part of the native landscape here in California—and healthy, well-maintained landscapes burn in predictable patterns. We don’t want to suppress fire, but there is no reason for catastrophic fire when we have the tools to manage it. We need to employ and support these tools ahead of time.
Shepherd Matthew Sablove says, “Imagine if fire crews faced tended ‘wild’ lands, trails made by ruminants (grazing animals), thinned out brush, and less dead matter stacked in the air to fuel hotter fires. It behooves us all to regenerate lands by being active agents and stewards of nature.”
Neighbors waving at us from their backyards might also be wondering who we are. Sure, we’re the people hired with our herd of grazing animals, happily munching and stomping through fire fuel and overgrowth. But we also appear to be a small band of gypsies.
This post will cover some good-to-know basics about the way we live and work.
Firstly, we are guided by a particular set of principles:
Regenerative Living. Regenerate, or degenerate. Those are the options. Water flows, or it festers. We believe that human needs are best met when we function interdependently in models that are equitable to all living beings. This means plants, roots, and soil. This means animals, insects, and trees. It means reciprocity—that you and me are not separate entities fighting to survive in a competitive environment. When we take good care of ourselves, each other, and the earth, we gravitate toward systems that support whole life cycles. We flow together in closed loops, in which the output of one element is the input of another—no harmful, toxic, violent, or extractive measures needed. We unleash the energy for creative expression, collaborative problem-solving, and new growth!
Authentic Activism. We are tough-working people dedicated to earth stewardship and ecosystem restoration. We are also artists, musicians, dancers, healers, and friends. You may notice that when we aren’t setting up solar-powered fence-lines, we’re practicing yoga, writing poetry, or surfing. We also practice deep gratitude, clear communication, and radical self-love. We laugh loudly, and sing proudly. We also make mistakes. Every job site presents different challenges; even though we know a lot, we’re learning as we go. Shepherding in Southern California brings high heat, hard water, poison oak, and, depending on the time of year, quite a lot of smoke. We’re dealing with large quantities of animals, in matters of life and death. And sometimes the goats break down the fence and go visiting a section of property that isn’t in the contract. In other words, we balance a potent sense of purpose mixed with continual sources of stress—and we’re doing our best.
Your Best is Good Enough
We are good shepherds. We aren’t the richest, the prettiest, the biggest, the strongest, the smartest, the fanciest, or whatever. We don’t expect you to be, either. People have a tendency to think of themselves as not being good enough as they are, which limits what they think they deserve in the present moment, which prevents them from doing their best. We end up, as a society, settling for less. Less health, less wealth, less beauty, less laughter, less love. And we let the earth settle for less, too. It has been poisoned, neglected, stripped raw. We must all do our best, one moment at a time, to set things right.
California has a massive maintenance problem on its hands. Climate change may drive wildfire, but overgrowth feeds it. There should be millions of goats and sheep grazing the west coast. While they’re at it, people can benefit from their milk, meat, skin, and wool. While they’re at it, the trampling action of their feet and the microbial action of their feces restores vitality and resilience to the soil. They’re cute, and they bring a sense of calm.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
You can sponsor-a-sheep by subscribing to our Patreon page, where we share stories, music, health, wellness, and other regenerative lifestyle offerings! You'll also get to name one of our grazing animals.
If you’re concerned about fire risk in your area, connect us with the local land managers.
And finally, if you have any other questions or concerns, please use our contact form to reach out.