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Working for better management options and cohabitation through compromise and communication for the American Wild Mustang

Re-Posting A Tidbit for Your Thoughts: “Cattle can help with fire risk in Colorado”

Posted by Texas Mustang Project on April 30, 2010

This one just caught my attention right quick… A reposting of some interesting op-ed… On WordPress, there is an app called a “tag surfer”. It basically scans its blogs posted recently that match the tags you attach to your own posts. This one came across this evening, and quite frankly I don’t think it could’ve have come across at a more appropriate time. (Updated with a few comments of my own at the end…)

Community Agriculture Alliance: Cattle can help with fire risk in Colorado

5 hours ago ago by csuile. Spam? Tags: Uncategorized, Beef, Economics, Environment, Colorado, grazing, sustainability, cattle, BLM, USFS, Western Governors Association, Fire

[Source: Op-ed by Brita Horn, Routt County CattleWoman for Steamboat Today]

Cows can be the first line of defense in fighting wildland fires this season. No, do not expect our local cattle to don a yellow Nomex shirt, green brush pants and wildland boots. Do not anticipate seeing bovines eagerly trying to carry a Pulaski tool, a backpack water pump and their fire shelter belted around their waist. However, if we try to work together with the forestry management groups and the local ranchers, we might be able to get some mitigation of reducing flashy fuel loads (grass) growing below our tree lines and reduce the ladder fuels (shrub, brush) carry that fire to the tops of trees and devastate the forest.

Last year was an outstanding year for moisture and minimal wildland fires. It gave yet one more year for the needles to fall off the beetle-kill trees, which will reduce the heat intensity of a fire in most areas. The intensity of the fires is what is different about wildland fires since the past. Fire was always a part of our western heritage. Ignited by lightning and even “prescribed burns” by Native Americans, our western land has seen generations of surface fires that have reduced the dense fuels that are under the tree canopies that were only stopped by a right mix of rain, weather and topography. The natural burning of the lands started to make expected firebreaks and created a variety of landscapes and a habitat for wildlife and livestock to thrive on.

We still have controlled burns in spring and fall and lightning strikes throughout the summer, however, the landscape has changed. Now, we have urban sprawl, subdivisions surrounding public lands and communities nestled in and around tree lines. These communities bring paved highways, power lines, fences and bike trails to the mix. Colorado communities are beginning to identify the areas that have fuel buildup that is surrounding homes, and that creates the urban-interface model.

Now, with the suppression of fires in the forest since they are too close to homes and communities, our forests are not as healthy as in the past. The forests now are filled to capacity: too much vegetation, downed trees, and new seedlings and standing trees. What the frequent natural fires once cleaned out to make open healthy tree stands without disease and insects now are riddled with overcrowding of trees, creating a prescription for higher-intensity fires when Mother Nature strikes. The pine-beetle-killed trees are in various stages of danger: highly intense heated fuel loads with dead and downed trees that will make it nearly impossible to mitigate.

According to the 2002 report, “A Collaborative Approach for Reducing Wildland Fire Risks to Communities and the Environment: 10-Year Compre­­hensive Strategy, Implementation Plan,” by the Western Governor’s Association, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and others, “The 2000 fire season was one of the worst in 50 years, with nearly 123,000 fires burning 8.4 million acres. More than $2 billion in federal dollars and countless dollars from state and local funds were spent to suppress these wildland fires. The average acreage burned nationally has remained high with 2006 surpassing the devastation of 2000, and fire risk continues to mount. Much of this increased fire risk has resulted from community growth in the wildland-urban interface, build-up of forest and woodland fuel loads from years of fire suppression, and fire-prone ecosystems created by the invasion of exotic plants like cheat grass.”

Since the cheat grass is now on the floor of our forest, it is a perfect time to implement target grazing to reduce these fuels. Target grazing typically tackles four fire fuel types: grass (flashy fuels), shrub, slash and timber.

“Grazing by cattle has been applied to forestlands around the world to reduce fire risk,” (Gold, M.A. and J.W. Hanover. “Agro forestry systems for the temperate zone.” Agroforestry Systems).

The livestock becomes active participants in forestry systems designed to reduce the overcrowding of plants and trees and reduce the likelihood of wildfire. Grazing also can trim ladder fuels and copies the fire pruning effect created by the frequent surface fires that historically burned naturally below the forest canopy. Livestock grazing can clearly adjust the fuel characteristics of forests, though grazing alone does not reduce fire risk. Target grazing allows for the local livestock producers to work with the forest managers to identify the fuel characteristics and develop a strategy to reduce the fuel load and optimize the feed potential.

The strategy would need to include more prescribed burns to fully complement the natural fires of the past that kept the forests healthy. It would take monitoring and flexible procedures to form a successful plan. In order to reduce the fuel loading, integrating grazing and prescribed burns would be the most successful blueprint for our county.

Putting together a line of attack for using grazing livestock as a fire line attack is a complex process. It takes a great deal of cooperation between the forest managers, livestock owners and the public. Using livestock to manage the forest is an ongoing and dynamic process that will take time and persistence to be successful. It will take a great deal of education and training to understand plant and fire characteristics, grazing management and a focus on the goal to reduce fuel loading from all parties. This type of cooperation of all the valued participants could be a cost-effective business model that is a win-win for all involved. For the most part, these relationships already have been forged, and tabletop discussions would be the first step in the right direction for our community. We now have all the tools in the toolbox; now, let’s get to work and hammer out a plan for the future health of our forests.

Well, I went to the websites shown as hyperlinks and I was able to find some of the documentation referenced. However, the links to some of these were “no longer active pages”. So in order to get the rest of the documentation, I had to do a little digging and of course, I found them anyway!

Archive – Wildland Fire Leadership Council News and Accomplishments: A Collaborative Approach for Reducing Wildland Fire Risks to Communities and the Environment, Monitoring and Performance Report DRAFT Briefing Paper (PDF, 1.9 MB) and DRAFT Executive Summary 2007 (PDF, 3.5 MB)

Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity (MTBS)

Large Fire Suppression Costs: Strategies for Cost Management (PDF 1.2 MB) – A Report to the Wildland Fire Leadership Council from the Strategic Issues Panel on Fire Suppression Costs

Now, maybe I’m wrong, but maybe I’m right… It just seems to me that if there were… I don’t know… say… wild horses and wild bison grazing those lands in the same exact ways that they have been for however many centuries (not in the mood to argue that point right now) Well, it just seems to me that they would be accomplishing the same exact thing that the cattle would be accomplishing… Only differences here lie in the two sides of a coin: heads – the wild horses and wild bison are gathered / hazed and removed from the lands they call home and the cattle come in a replace them at a nice shiny pricetag for most all involved; tails – leave the wild ones there to do what Mother Earth intended them to do in the first place!

But that’s just my “op-ed”…

And this same blog has the audacity to go after the wolves! Wolf-pack report raises doubts, fears March 2, 2010 This is just too much! I’m sorry if you guys think I’m being abrasive or rude, maybe even a little bit of ignorance because I haven’t reserched all of this as much as I normally would… But tough titty said the kitty when the milk ran dry! I’ve just about had enough of all of this. It’s time.



20 Responses to “Re-Posting A Tidbit for Your Thoughts: “Cattle can help with fire risk in Colorado””

  1. Linda said

    Cattle are only the “first line of defense” if you can convince them to stray more than a mile from the nearest waterhole. Sounds like a job for “Superhorse” to me!

  2. This is just the last straw for me… I’ve tried my best to stay out of this area of conflict for so long – and I’ve done a pretty good job at it so far – but seriously? Cattle to help with the fire risks? I thought that was what the NATURAL wildlife did… Ya know? The ones who were there BEFORE the cattle?

  3. reveil39 said

    looks like they are trying really hard to give a positive image to the use of cattle on public lands.
    Now what happens to the vegetation they actually destroy, heightening the risk of fire….
    As far the relationships already forged, we already know about that. And the “complex process” is probably limited to getting more grazing land. It’s a world upside down, that’s for sure.



  5. Do ‘livestock’ then mean only cows to the BLM study?? No sheep, horses or other wild grazers? Oh well, a study seems incomplete and maybe unreal/inaccurate unless all doing the grazing/browsing are included? Good one Tracie… mar

  6. sandra longley said

    cattle are some of the least efficient grazers on the planet..Sue Wallis isn’t sponsering this is she?..Who is destroying the serengetii plains? cattle and mankind-cattle are 1) inefficient because they-lay down on the job to chew their cud, instead of moving and grazing all day-they are ruminating..I need to find out how many hours a day are spent on this process-cattle refuse to travel more than 6/10 of a mile from water-have to be baited with salt or water or pushed to move..There is plenty of proof online, and much research has been done-using gps collars on cattle that back that up..they do not eat weeds..They just plain will not travel far enough to do any good but destroy the land..On the ranch in N Nevada where I worked-in the spring /summer-cattle had to be pushed back out onto the allotment every other day, as they keep coming back to the meadows at the home ranch-which are hayed in the summer for feed in the winter.Its a concesus among those that work with cattle that tey are the dumbestest thing on 4 legs-mankind being the dumbest on 2 legs.

    • sandra longley said

      I might add- there were wild horses on the ranch area-that NEVER set foot on the ranch except when they were rounded up, the best you could do was to spot them on hillsides several miles from the green pastures and flowing river through the main ranch..I never saw them twice in the same spot..wild cattle were a different story..they are wilder than wild horses.

  7. Linda said

    This is what I just posted to the original story site.

    Cattle are only a “first line of defense” if you can convince them to stray more than 6/10 of a mile from a waterhole. How will that be accomplished? Maybe by developing water “bubblers”, but that would lower the water table in the surrounding area.

    How do you convince cattle not to move back to the ranches where they know they have access to water and food? Set up barbed wire fences on the range and in our national forests, and deny access to wildlife?

    I realize the danger of “cheatgrass’ and other invasive, opportunistic plants. Do these grasses emerge before cattle are allowed out of their winter pastures? If so, would ranchers be permitted to turn their cows out earlier in the spring?

    Would other domestic livestock like sheep and goats be considered for this program? What damage could these livestock, particularly cattle, do to the range, especially to waterholes and other water resources?

    How would this impact browsing and grazing wildlife, especially at a time most babies are being born? What do hunters think about this proposal?

    Obviously this plan is in it’s infancy. Provable science requires controlled studies on test areas over time before any thing like this is widely implemented. Turning numbers of livestock loose and just seeing what happens may potentially do more harm than good.

    • Linda said

      “Steamboat” either canned this or I didn’t submit it correctly. Maybe I ask too many questions?

      • Lisa LeBlanc said

        Linda – cheatgrass (because it’s the most plentiful of the invasives) must be consumed in mass quantities because it’s not very nutritious. While cattle do the damage they do to the range, it’s more due to sheer numbers, because, as some other commentors have stated, they like to relax by the water hole, settle down, burp up and rechew.
        In late spring and early summer, after having starved it’s competition of water, sun and nutrients, cheatgrass is ready to dry out and go ni-night until next winter. It’s seed heads become these needle sharp barbs that poke, especially tender mouths. Most rangeland critters CAN’T eat it then.
        By cattle behavior alone, they couldn’t do appreciable damage to cheatgrass; in order to become a part of a cheatgrass (or other edible noxious weed) mitigation or irradication program, LIVESTOCK NUMBERS WOULD HAVE TO BE INCREASED. (The preceding all caps are for those who may NOT be of the Equine Advocate persuasion…)
        Yet, built into the very fabric of the dry & arid ranges occupying the Western States that suffer the most during wildfire season, We, The Taxpayers HAVE a Volunteer Wildfire Prevention staff: They are Team Wild Horses & Burros.
        Left to do what Nature built them for – to range far & wide in the pursuit of food, water & the Procreation Tango, these tough li’l four-legged titans can and will eat what no one else will, and poop out the seeds of a new generation!! Able to munch cheatgrass in the dead of winter, when it first begins to sprout! Willing to go hither & YON in an effort to save Mankind from it own idiocy, perpretrated by the All Seeing (yet ill educated) Powers That Be who only see a natural resource as that which can be taxed for profit or exported to benefit a foreign country!!
        Sorry; I got a little lost in that last rant.
        And a study isn’t goin to be done at no cost to the Taxpayer, so I feel the beginnings of another Screwing at hand. A study of Wild Equines & their Effect on Cheatgrass Stands could be conducted, at little or NO cost, if those same Powers would leave the damn Equines alone for a minute or two.

  8. What do we need to do to combat this crap? Traci, I stopped even TRYING to be polite a long time ago. It don’t work.

    • I am searching for the right avenue to take currently. The best I can say at this point is simply this: We MUST come together as ONE and not as many. When we all put forth our efforts together we can make a whole lot bigger noise than if we were just one. We
      We all want the same thing: Leave the Wild Ones Where Mother Earth Put Them. It doesn’t matter which wild one it is… They are all an integral part of the intricate ecosystems wherein they reside. Take one away, effect all. Leave all, make the one whole and balanced again.

  9. *Re-Posting message from Willis…
    It appears to me that some ranching interests are promoting the ecological benefits of cattle ranching as a counter offensive to criticism over the adverse impacts of European livestock grazing on Western ranges. It’s a logical PR effort, but it brings to light an argument that benefits horses.
    I spent 30 years as a fire fighter, fire officer and emergency planner in the Oakland-Berkeley hills area of California. That is one of the most dangerous fire risk areas in the country. The fuel loading is incredible, there is seldom any rain between early June and November and tens of thousands of acres of wildlands and watersheds abut metropolitan communities.
    For decades cattle grazing permits were issued by the agencies managing wildlands watersheds to help mitigate the fire danger. By the 1980s many of the cattle permits were dropped and a contractor was hired to use goats to reduce fuel hazards.
    About the same time a hard freeze killed thousands of eucalyptus trees creating a new fire hazard. Horse loggers were hired to remove many of the dead trees as the horses created less damage to the watersheds than heavy machinery. That spawned the notion that horses could be used as a low impact means of controlling flash fuels and grasses in large areas that had been cleared and were now choked with grass.
    One of the early models involved the Orinda Horseman’s Association. They entered into a cooperative agreement with the East Bay Municipal Utility District to manage a critical watershed in exchange for allowing the association’s horses to be grazed on that watershed. As the official liaison for the responsible fire agency, I found this project to be hugely successful, with minimal if any negative environmental or viewshed impacts with virtually no costs to any of the tax supported agencies. On at least three occasions that I can recall (the worst being the Oakland Firestorm) OHA and other managed livestock use firebreaks provided critical buffers between high fire danger wildlands and developed areas.
    By the time of the Oakland Firestorm there were several horse use areas. And to be fair, cattle grazing also significantly helped provide a critical fire line buffer between Oakland and the communities of Orinda and Moraga, however the interesting aspect is that cattle ran in the nonsensitive areas, and horses ran where there were greater environmental and watershed protection concerns.
    So yes, cattle can help mitigate fire risk and they do it well when properly managed. However that argument opens the door to decades of monitored experience where horses actually have done an equal or better job with less environmental damage.
    In 2008 a fire burned towards Orinda but was stopped at OHA where the fuel load was light enough to commit ground crews and establish a viable fire line. Here’s a video.

    I suppose the logical argument is that cattle do provide fire protection where cattle grazing is appropriate, but horses do a less environmentally damaging job and bison are native wildlife. Therefore I would never wish to see horses and bison replaced by cattle for either fire safety or watershed protection reasons.
    “:O) Willis

  10. LOUIE COCROFT said


  11. Lisa LeBlanc said

    I just came home from a visit to a friend in Fernley, Nevada.
    I saw something AMAZING, through this agricultural little town and the areas beyond:
    Multiple-acre parcels of fenced-in land, with homes and out buildings for animals… and DOZENS OF CATTLE GRAZING ON THEIR OWN DAMN PROPERTY.
    Also, several months ago, when the DOI was asking for ideas from regular citizens, I put forth the idea that maybe removing wild equines from the range may have been the cattle-lyst (that there’s a pun, y’all) for the massive MASSIVE destruction wildfires have wreaked since the round-ups have removed nearly 90,000 wild equines from the range (a 10-year accumulation).
    This article soldifies the notion – the DOI and it’s underlings have not had an original thought since sometime in the late 1800’s; they will borrow a good idea, wrap it up in bureaucracy and tailor it for their own very special needs.

    • Linda said

      Lisa – Roxy and I also put up ideas on the DOI site, as did a number of others. Wonder if there’s any way of finding out what ever became of them. Probably another exercise in futility, just like the rest of our communications with Washington.

      • Lisa LeBlanc said

        I go look at OpenInterior about once a week; it hasn’t changed a bit since it’s inception. While I may be a little bitter that our suggestions (and some of those from you and Roxy were flawless) have had no response, I get a little thrill to read portions of them plagiarized as new and innovative, at least in print.
        Do I remember those sources? Um, no. It only sometimes occurs to me to cite this stuff, and I’m gonna regret it soon, I’m sure.
        That’s both a benefit and a detriment when we find ourselves with a Wolf among the Advocates. Piddly little portions of well spoken logic from all Advocates dribble into the Public view, but I think the Wolves (don’t get me wrong. I love the wild, furry variety. It’s the hairless political breed what makes me wax bitter.) also arm themselves AGAINST some of our better ideas.

  12. Lisa LeBlanc said

    Since 2001, 74,000 Wild Equines have been removed from their ranges. (This statement is over a year old, I think. By the time Round Up Season is over, it’ll be closer to 90,000)
    From the USGS website, archived data on acreage destroyed by Wildfires since then:
    2002 7,184,712
    2004 8,097,880
    2005 8,689,389
    2006 9,873,745
    2007 9,328,045

    The year 2000 wildfires destroyed 7,393,493 acres. Prior to that, the highest historical loss was in 1988 at 5,009,290 acres. HISTORICAL. I cited the above years because with the exception of 2003, the loss of land to wildfires has increased incrementally. The fires, in my opinion, without Wild Equines to lessen forage in places cattle can’t go have more and more fuel.
    I may be grasping desperately here. Drought, climate change and other blah-de-blah are contributors, I’m sure, but I would like to see an overlay of roundups and wildfires.
    That would either shut my mouth (maybe) or be the proof that Wild Equines are so much more than they’re given credit for – that they are truly necessary for the health of the environments they occupy.

  13. LOUIE COCROFT said


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