New Labor Legal guidelines and the Menace to California Wildfire Prevention – Do You Agree?

Hundreds of goats are scattered across the California countryside and represent a unique and natural wildfire prevention strategy. The ruminants are used to eat potentially dangerous plants – grass, shrubs and weeds that could start dangerous wildfires. Jason Poupolo, Parks Manager for the City of West Sacramento, confirms:

“It’s a huge source of fuel. If left untamed, it can grow very tall. And then when summer dries it all up, it’s the perfect fuel for a fire.”

These goats have become invaluable partners in wildfire prevention because of their ability to graze in hard-to-reach, steep areas and eat a wide variety of vegetation. Known as “directed grazing,” this practice is being hailed as an environmentally friendly alternative to chemical herbicides and noisy, polluting weed killers.

However, recent changes in state labor codes pose a threat to this innovative wildfire prevention strategy. These new rules, which the California Farm Bureau says will increase herdsmen’s monthly salary from about $3,730 to a whopping $14,000, put the future in jeopardy the goat pasture industry.

Western Grazers owner Tim Arrowsmith offers a bleak forecast of what the new regulations could mean for his business:

“Without a resolution of the new regulations, we will be forced to sell these goats for slaughter and auction yards and we will be put out of business and likely to file for bankruptcy.”

His company, which manages approximately 4,000 goats, provides critical grazing services to government agencies and private landowners throughout Northern California, highlighting the magnitude of this impending crisis.

One of the contentious issues is that goatherds require 24/7 availability, resulting in herders being paid a minimum monthly wage rather than an hourly wage. However, a law signed in 2016 extended these herders to overtime pay, raising the monthly minimum wage and further driving up operating costs for herding businesses.

From January, these labor costs are likely to rise sharply again, as a government agency has decreed that goatherds should no longer be subject to a separate labor law, but should be subject to the same labor laws as other farm workers. This would increase the goatherds’ wages even further, potentially reaching as high as $14,000 a month. According to goatherds, these changes would make the provision of goat grazing services unsustainable and lead to a possible collapse of this sector.

Pointing to the dire implications of this regulatory overhaul, Arrowsmith states:

“I can’t pay an employee $14,000 a month starting January 1st. There just isn’t enough money. Cities cannot bear such costs. What is at stake for the public is that your house could burn down because we cannot contain the blaze.”

With California investing heavily in wildfire prevention in recent years, the looming challenge to the goat pasture industry could seriously jeopardize those efforts.

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