There’ll be a whole lot of munching and chewing going on this week up at Shaver Lake, one of the six major reservoirs in Northern Sierra’s Big Creek hydroelectric system.

Visitors might see a herd of goats munching on thick brush, or a contraption called a mastication head chewing through small trees and turning them into mulch in a matter of seconds.

It’s all part of an effort to demonstrate the best technologies to reduce highly flammable, unwanted debris and vegetation that can cause out of control forest fires.

Southern California Edison (SCE) is especially interested in this demo project because the utility has more than 20,000 acres of forestland in the Shaver Lake area, said SCE forestry manager Rich Bagley.

“Keeping land clear of highly flammable materials like small or dead trees or thick brush is critical —especially during drought conditions,” Bagley said.

SCE, along with the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, is sponsoring this rare opportunity for students, politicians and the general public to get a first-hand look at the technologies in action, and to get a better idea of how they could be used in various terrains and situations.  

“The study is valuable not just for the forestry management industry, but also for SCE in particular, because we are constantly treating areas underneath power lines,” said SCE project manager Ted Luckham, who is overseeing the project.

The demonstration will provide useful information on cost-effectiveness and environmental impact of the various hazardous fuel reduction technologies, he said.

In addition to goats and a variety of mastication heads, which can be mounted on excavators, other technologies being demonstrated this week include burners, chippers and the sheer muscle power of California Conservation Corps workers.

“For nearly a century, SCE has had a reputation for successful forest management,” Bagley said. “Our efforts have resulted in building and maintaining healthy ecosystems where wildlife populations thrive, including various threatened and endangered species such as bald eagles and spotted owls.

“This is one more step in what we call adaptive management, which helps us manage our forest even better as we learn from scientific research and of new technologies,” he said. “Reducing excessive biomass makes our forest more resilient to hazards, especially the risk of catastrophic wildfires.”

Similar demonstrations will also take place over the next few weeks in the San Bernardino National Forest and at the Santa Rosa Indian Reservation in Riverside County.