As California prepares for what might be a destructive fire season, BART has added some new munching munitions to its mitigation menagerie: self-shearing sheep.
The transit agency has long made use of goats and their voracious appetites to keep the grass trimmed along its rights-of-way—as does Caltrain, its sister transportation system. But now BART, which runs trains through numerous fire-prone landscapes across the region, revealed its new ovine weapons on Monday.
Last winter’s intense rains caused hillsides to sprout large amounts of plant growth, which means more potential fuel for fires. In the past, agency staff had cleared the terrain with the use of heavy machinery, which emit pollution and could be loud and disruptive to residential neighbors. After two years of deploying goats to steep hillsides, it’s time for another tactic, the agency said in a press release.
“BART has been using goats for a while now, meaning there’s more fine grasses and less brush now,” said Mike Canaday, owner of Living Systems Land Management, the Coalinga company from which BART sources its wooly workers. “The sheep graze the grasses, while the goats go for the coarser brittle.”
The sheep also consume vegetation at a faster pace than goats do, and don’t possess an ability to climb trees and cause mischief. There are now some 500 grazing ruminants working to prevent the grass fires that periodically interrupt train service during the hot, dry months. A human shepherd and a sheepdog help transport the flock from site to site.
It’s unknown whether the sheep board BAAAHRT at Civic Center/Ewe-N Plaza, however.
Although it did not supply specific figures, BART said the use of goats and sheep has helped the cash-strapped agency cut its fire-prevention costs in half.
They began their work at a recently opened South Bay station, Berryessa/North San Jose, and will nibble their way north until they get to Pittsburg/Bay Point at the transit network’s northeastern extremity.
At least one BART employee still prefers goats to sheep, however. Josh Soltero, a fence and irrigation technician, simply likes their dispositions.
“The sheep look like fluffy goats,” he said. “But the goats are a little friendlier. They’ll come up to you and feel you out. The sheep are more standoffish.”
Astrid Kane can be reached at email@example.com