Write by Harrison Raine, PCF volunteer
The Fire Shepherd project is a knowledge exchange project facilitated through the Pau Costa Foundation aimed at educating and equiping shepherds with wildfire expertise. Historically in Europe, rural people used far more of their available landscape than they do now, as many rural areas have been depopulated due to urban growth. The result is the loss of a land-use mosaic and overgrowth of fire-adapted vegetation, leading to large and intense wildfires.
The vision for the Fire Shepherd program is to restore wildfire knowledge back to rural land-users and offer them incentives to graze their animals in particular, strategic areas for operational wildfire response. This process requires collaboration between firefighters, who identify and map the strategic areas, land owners, who own the area which have been identified, and the shepherds, who graze and reduce fuel loads.
During a wildfire, these areas serve as markers for reduced fire behavior and potential breaks for firefighters to perform efficient suppresison. The land owners benefit by reducing the flammability of their lands, and the shepherds benefit as they may have areas to graze freely and market their produce as part of the Fire Shepherds program. Overall, the Fire Shepherds program represents an innovative initiative to expand wildfire awareness and reduce future risk.