Culture revival of livestock grazing for wildfire management, California

Compendium Volume 2 Number 2 January 2019 r.1

An old-school Italian festival celebrating the work of grazing animals and their faithful herders has taken root in Petaluma, CA. “Transhumance” is the act of moving grazing animals from one grassy site to another. The festival bearing this name takes place in the city or town centers through which the animals traverse en route to fresh paddocks. People gather there to celebrate the cultural tradition of livestock grazing, to trade, and to make merry.

A Petaluma transhumance festival was begun for practical purposes. Sweetgrass Grazing, a local contract grazing business whose client list has expanded in the wake of the recent California wildfires, needed a practical way to move livestock from one client’s site to another. A well-recognized approach for controlling the severity of wildfires is fuel reduction by means of removing vegetation. Yet, in contrast to mechanical or herbicide removal, grazing livestock herds remove vegetation in a way that builds the soil and creates conditions for healthier compositions of grassland species. Furthermore, nimble sheep, goats and herders can also access higher elevations that are inaccessible to machines.

In addition to conditioning townspeople to the idea of herding livestock through town, the festival seeks to sensitize the community at large to the wellbeing of surrounding landscape and possibilities for taking care of that land.

Transhumance: a revival of grassland culture: 

Transhumance festival:

For the full PDF version of the compendium issue where this article appears, visit Compendium Volume 2 Number 2 January 2019 r.1