Wildfire at night, Nevada NeilLockhart-iStock-Thinkstock
Public policy changes are needed so livestock grazing can reduce fuel loads in strategic locations on public lands.

Campaign hopes to improve Western grazing options

Two organizations begin efforts to improve grazing policy on public Western lands.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Public Lands Council today kicked off a media and advertising campaign that will shine a spotlight on how grazing on public lands helps to mitigate the risk of catastrophic wildfires.

The campaign will center around a new website, GrazingPreventsWildfires.com, and will run through May.

Large wildfires are a leading threat to species like the greater sage grouse and are self-perpetuating in the West as invasive plants such as cheatgrass thrive on winter moisture, then dry out, burn wildly upon summer lightning strikes, and damage an ecosystem not adapted to frequent fire.

“Coming off the wet winter we had across much of the west, ranchers are on the sidelines as new spring growth explodes and adds to residual grasses from prior grazing reductions," says Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council and NCBA's Federal Lands.

He explains the fuel loads are building at the same time that livestock numbers on federal grazing permits continue to shrink due to misplaced priorities, political pressure, and a lack of regulatory flexibility for the staffs of the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to make the adaptive management decisions with livestock managers.

A Nevada publication explains that livestock can be a useful tool in these situations, although it makes clear they are not a panacea. "In site-specific situations, livestock can be used as a tool to lower fire risk by reducing the amount, height, and distribution of fuel. Livestock can also be used to manage invasive weeds in some cases and even to improve wildlife habitat," the authors write.

The new campaign will also use social media and video to help tell the story of livestock as a tool.

two-minute video that will be promoted on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms features Darcy Helmick, Land Manager for Simplot Livestock Company in southern Idaho. Helmick walks through a vast, dense BLM grass stand in rural Owyhee County, Idaho, which she explains will turn into wildfire fuel as it dries out in the summer months.

“What’s unfortunate is we’ve already grazed this allotment,” Helmick points out. “So no more of this forage will be removed prior to fire season. If we have the ability and the flexibility to bring cows out and stay long enough to remove some of this forage, we’re literally reducing the fuel load in these areas.”

NCBA and PLC this week also released a Beltway Beef podcast with Lane discussing the lack of flexibility within federal agencies to allow more grazing after unusually wet spells. Over the coming weeks, NCBA and PLC will release additional videos, infographics, letters to the editor and other materials aimed at educating policy makers, reporters, and other industry stakeholders in Washington and elsewhere.

Sources: NCBA, PLC

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