New overtime rules for goatherds could increase pay to $14,000 a month by next year – and companies say they cannot afford it
Hundreds of goats munch on long blades of yellow grass on a hillside next to a sprawling townhouse complex. They were hired to clear vegetation that could fuel wildfires as temperatures rise this summer.
These voracious herbivores are in high demand to devour weeds and shrubs that have proliferated across California after a drought-busting winter of heavy rain and snow.
“It’s a huge fuel source. If it was left untamed, it can grow very high. And then when the summer dries everything out, it’s perfect fuel for a fire,” said Jason Poupolo, parks superintendent for the city of West Sacramento, where goats grazed on a recent afternoon.
Targeted grazing is part of California’s strategy to reduce wildfire risk because goats can eat a wide variety of vegetation, including on steep, rocky terrain that’s hard for others to access. Backers say they are an eco-friendly alternative to chemical herbicides or weed-whacking machines that make noise and create pollution.
But new state labor regulations are making it more expensive to provide goat-grazing services, and herding companies say the rules threaten to put them out of business. The changes could raise the monthly salary of herders from about $3,730 to $14,000, according to the California Farm Bureau.read more