Campus News

They’re BAAck! Sheep continue to provide lessons in invasive plant management at UGA

Athens, Ga. – As part of Earth Week 2011, approximately 30 sheep will be dispatched to an area between the Oconee River and the University of Georgia’s East Campus.This will be the second of a series of planned visits for the woolly guests.

On April 18th, from 3 to 5 p.m., members of the campus and local community will have a chance to interact with the woolly visitors, learning more about the environmental benefits of animal grazing for invasive plant removal, as well as an opportunity to get their hands dirty and help the sheep by “lopping” privet branches beyond their reach.

The UGA Grounds Department, in collaboration with several UGA colleges and departments interested in the potential of a novel invasive plant management strategy, has enlisted the help of a local shepherd and her small herd of sheep to restore forested land on campus and improve visual access to the North Oconee River.

“The grazing site was choked with privet,” said Dexter Adams, director of the UGA Grounds Department. “In addition to forming a nearly impenetrable physical and visual barrier, this invasive plant displaces more diverse and controlled native species.”The sheep are a cost-effective and ideal solution to clear the privet, Adams explained, because “unlike cattle, sheep avoid the water’s edge, leaving vulnerable embankments undisturbed. Unlike goats, they do not attempt to strip larger, desirable trees.”

Sarah Workman, a natural resources scientist with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Office of Global Programs, is conducting a controlled experiment and demonstration project showing the effectiveness of this natural method for invasive removal within riparian zones, or vegetated corridors along rivers. The grazing project will be featured as part of the 12th Annual North American Agroforestry Conference to be hosted by UGA on June 4 – 9.

The project also will enhance visibility and accessibility to the North Oconee River, which is separated by man-made barriers or steep embankments in most other areas of campus. Master planners in the University Architects Office envision a park-like setting in the heart of East Campus where students and faculty can engage with the river for research and recreation.

“This project represents an innovative best practice for invasive plant removal and will further the vision laid out by campus planners for ecological restoration and pedestrian improvements on UGA’s East Campus,” said Kevin Kirsche, UGA’s director of sustainability.

Jennif Chandler, the enlisted local shepherd, has used this environmental approach in helping to clear the David Henry Hardigree Wildlife Sanctuary, south of Watkinsville in Oconee County, as well as in managing the land on her own property in Madison County. “One of the best things about using sheep in woodland and riparian areas is that they do not disturb, erode or compact the soil,” said Chandler. “Neither do they damage existing trees. Roots of invasive vegetation will slowly die while roots of trees and other desirable plants move in.”

Given the regenerative nature of plants like privet, it could take several years before the unwanted vegetation is removed.

For more information regarding sustainability initiatives at the university, see the UGA Office of Sustainability.