Land Stewardship

Sonoma SASS Provides a Healthy Alternative to Dangerous Pesticides

Our West County Community Grazing Cooperatives for Healthy, Fire-Safe, and Climate Smart Land Stewardship Project is an innovative, grassroots, community oriented solution that addresses the risk of fire, a warming planet, and social equity in our West County, Sonoma County, CA neighborhoods. We are building resilient, fire safe communities while promoting regenerative land management and supporting community neighborhood mapping and emergency planning.

 ​By providing a healthy alternative to using dangerous pesticides to reduce fuel load, this project delivers a win-win solution for the landowner, the soil, community and the planet!

The Context

The question is not ​if​ a fire will hit West County it is ​when​. Our West County is full of unmanaged forests, with massive understory and ladder fuels. There are few roads out and many small driveways, if they are inflamed, it will make it very difficult for residents to escape. This creates the potential for a catastrophic event with many lives lost, homes burned, poor air quality and a toxic watershed. To combat this inevitability and to give the residents the tools and support to build their own fire prevention and evacuation plan we have developed a creative solution. This solution not only resolves or diminishes the crisis of a fire, but also actively mitigates the warming of our climate through carbon sequestration.

Our Plan

The Community Grazing Cooperatives for Healthy, Fire-Safe, and Climate Smart Land Stewardship Project is an equity-based, grassroots, community-oriented solution that addresses the risk of fire, reduces the use of synthetic pesticides and builds resilience to high-risk communities within the Russian River Watershed. This project aims to catalyze a new intersectional land stewardship model that coordinates and deploys the recommendations of local tribal leadership on private working landscapes and is centered on creating a replicable design for subsequent broad-scale adoption by the county. The project’s goals include developing core partnerships, deploying land stewardship methods, and documenting the successes and key learnings as a means to establish all necessary county objectives for fire resilience. County officials have publicly acknowledged the Intersectional Land Stewardship model’s partners (even prior to execution) as an exciting and hopeful prospect that will help them create fire resilience throughout the county.

In 2021 we will develop a pilot project on 3-6 sites where we have received pre-approval for Intersectional Land Stewardship. The pilot projects will include an ecological and cultural assessment of existing native flora, fauna, and culturally significant sites led by tribal leadership of the Wappo and Southern Pomo. Depending on the site evaluation, key action steps will follow that could include deployment of any one, or all of the following: mechanical brush removal, arborist pruning and chipping, goat herd management, prescriptive and cultural burning. After developing a clear plan we will engage youth work groups to help with land stewardship actions. Engaging our youth to reconnect to the land they live on, develop relationships with leaders in land stewardship and build the skills needed for future employment in this field. Following the deployment of these actions, a minimum of two post event site evaluations will be administered to document culturally and ecologically relevant changes to the diversity and abundance of flora, fauna, and fuel load; follow-up recommendations provided by the tribe for ongoing stewardship practices will be administered by project partners.

All stewardship processes deployed during the pilot project will be documented and presented to county level officials and members of the general public to generate the necessary financial and social support to scale the work across Sonoma Counties private working landscapes.

By providing a healthy alternative to using dangerous pesticides to reduce fuel load, this project delivers a win-win solution for landowners, farmers, our communities, our watershed.

Our Goals

  • Fire prevention: Utilize goats with prescribed grazing to remove the ladder fuel load in our West County forests. Bring in arborists to do the large work that goats can’t do, in order to open up our forest into healthy, fire safe ecosystems.
  • Cultural and Ecological Assessment: Collaborating with and supporting our indigenous leaders in performing cultural and/or prescribed burns on private properties. Provide appropriate pay to engaged leaders and participate in a system that elevates them to positions of authority. Transitioning into the role of listening and being guided by their history and knowledge of this land.
  • Youth Engagement: Work with youth work crews to build relationships, mentors and job skills training in regenerative land stewardship
  • Climate Justice and Social Equity: Establish goat herding and coordinating paid positions to support community grazing cooperatives. Hire underserved community members with the necessary skill sets to step into these roles and assist neighborhoods in their fire abatement efforts.
  • Community Resiliency: Help communities build their own goat herds, or lease Sonoma SASS goat herd to provide the tools they need to create their individualized fire abatement plan. These plans will not only have strategies for fire abatement with goats and arborists, but will also contain a community Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and disaster/evacuation plan.
  • Combat Global Warming: Using prescribed grazing, each community grazing cooperative will be actively sequestering atmospheric carbon into the soil where it is a healthy and essential nutrient. By engaging a large area of our County through individual neighborhood participation, we can profoundly reduce the atmospheric carbon in our county.
  • Eliminate invasive plant species and the use of synthetic pesticides: By proper grazing management, we can effectively eliminate invasive, non-native plant species with the use of toxic synthetic pesticides; therefore encouraging the growth of our native, fire safe flora to return. This creates a safer and healthier environment to manage fires.
  • Healthy Watershed: Large forest fires that move into the trees and burn homes create massive toxicity run off into our watershed. By changing the flora and eliminating the ladder fuel load, we reduce the risk of a large fire in our West County.
  • Education: Communication and education are critical pieces in the success of any large project. We will hire several Senior Program Coordinators to oversee our community grazing cooperatives to help with education, problem resolution, and community engagement/coordinator. Each grazing cooperative will have a mentor coordinator in the community that spearheads their project. After long-term success of each cooperative, these mentors will step into the role of supporting other mentors in newly developed grazing cooperatives.

Key Services

  • Fire fuel load reduction and public safety
    • Eliminate the use of synthetic pesticides for fire fuel load reduction by using grazers (goats and/or sheep)
    • Reduce ladder fuels and fire understory in impacted areas of West Sonoma County
    • Create evacuation plans for each community grazing cooperative
    • Use goats to create fire breaks around rural residential neighborhoods
  • Climate justice and social equity
    • Listen to, engage, and support Indigenous leaders and their communities in an effort to restore their place as leaders in stewardship of this land
    • Support and build pathways for greater inclusion of Indigenous cultural or prescribed burns on private property in West County in partnership with local fire districts
    • Through education and scaled services, provide resources and opportunities for all neighborhoods regardless of socioeconomic status
    • Actively recruit and hire Program Coordinators and shepherds from underrepresented communities
  • Environmental stewardship
    • Model and teach regenerative land stewardship practices through grazing
    • Use prescribed grazing to sequester atmospheric Carbon
    • Eliminate the use of synthetic pesticides for fuel load abatement
    • Monitor grazing to ensure best practices
  • Community resilience
    •  Work in partnership with Map Your Neighborhood (Gravenstein Health Action Coalition) to create neighborhood resources and action plans for emergencies
    • Provide stress management tools in partnership with Sonoma Community Resilience Collaborative
    • Neighborhoods co-create their Community Grazing Cooperative based on theirunique needs through a facilitated process with Program Coordinators
  • Potential upstream investment
    • Train at-risk youth in grazing and shepherding for green career pathways

Our Unique Approach

Community grazing programs naturally address the issues of fire, safety, community resiliency and climate equity in a collaborative way, building morale and harmony in rural residential neighborhoods with creative grazing and agriculture methods. We have found with our current grazing cooperatives the natural development, within all participants, of a larger ecological experience through the improved soil, increased plant diversity and enhanced aesthetics of their neighborhood. It is quite profound to witness the increase in awareness simply from the greater connection with the grazing animals and their positive impact. This connection to place creates greater responsibility to the environment and feeling like there is something we can actually do about climate change and our fire ecology. These changes may seem inadvertent or unplanned, but they are the natural and a powerful result of participating in a community grazing cooperative.