The University of California Cooperative Extension has issued a timely study showing cattle grazing is an essential tool in reducing wildfire.
That won’t surprise a lot of readers, particularly those who live near forest and rangeland overloaded with the fuel that feeds the wildfires now raging throughout the West. Too often, though, the people in charge of policy don’t face that danger and have a hard time seeing the obvious.
The study, funded by the California Cattle Council, focused on conditions in the state of California, but the conclusions are relevant in Oregon, Washington and Idaho as well.
Grazing takes place in every county in California, except San Francisco County. Researchers say California’s 1.6 million beef cattle graze 11.6 billion pounds of potential wildfire fuel each year.
Without grazing, the state would have hundreds to thousands of additional pounds per acre of fine fuels on the landscape. With that fuel load, this year’s wildfires would be even more devastating. Researchers say cattle grazing is underutilized on public and private lands and targeted grazing should be expanded.
In the vast open spaces of the West they need to allow more cattle grazing, which has been shown to be an effective way to keep down cheatgrass and other weeds that burn hot and kill the ecosystem.
While targeted grazing can greatly reduce the threat of wildfire, it is not the answer in every situation. Critics argue with some merit that a headlong rush to expand grazing could do more harm than good.
But that it is not the answer in every case does not exclude grazing from being an answer in many cases.
As the climate becomes warmer and drier, the threat of fire will only grow. To keep that threat at bay, no tool should be excluded from the toolkit.
Grazing works, and where it will do good it should be expanded.