In this file:
· Log it, graze it or watch it burn
· Cattle might be secret weapon in fight against wildfires, experts say. Here’s how
· I’m from a long line of California ranchers. Now we flee fires all the time.
Log it, graze it or watch it burn
As wildfires consume the western United States, it's time to remind the public of the critical role that cattle play in reducing fuel for the flames.
Amanda Radke, BEEF Magazine
Sep 14, 2020
In the western United States, more than 30 active fires have scorched 900,000 acres in recent weeks. As the blazes rage on, our brave firefighters are working to save cities, homes, businesses, animals, farms, ranches and our food supply.
Now, I realize that the headline of today’s blog could be too hot (pun intended) and too political to handle. I’ll probably trigger some folks with this post.
If you’re not familiar, the popular phrase, “log it, graze it or watch it burn,” is a direct note to environmental extremists who believe ruminant animals shouldn’t graze pastures and timber shouldn’t be removed from forests. The “do not touch” approach is a favorite of many, but what are the repercussions of this fanciful idea of land management?
Without responsible management, renewable resources like grasslands and forests lay dead and dormant. Dry brush and dead trees are the perfect kindling for a hot blaze. It’s terribly tragic that popular rhetoric has put so many people and animals in a vulnerable and dangerous situation.
As we watch this terrible devastation and pray for our loved ones in the line of these fires, we are also seeing a lot of contradictory reports on the causes of these wildfires. From arson, to gender reveal parties gone wrong, to lightning strikes, to the government using the fires as a ploy to get emergency federal funding, there are countless conspiracies floating around about why the blaze is so hot. I’ll let you research those ideas for yourself. That’s not my aim of today’s post.
Although science shouldn’t be political, there seems to be a red verses blue division on how to address the wildfires in the western states. From my perspective, it’s all a bit more nuanced than what anybody is reporting.
On one side of the coin, many believe that these wildfires are a sign of climate change. In fact, some of the mainstream media reporters have started calling the wildfires “climate fires” in their articles.
Former President Barack Obama tweeted last week, “The fires across the West Coast are just the latest examples of the very real ways our changing climate is changing our communities. Protecting our planet is on the ballot. Vote like your life depends on it — because it does.”
On Monday, Sept. 14, Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden spoke on climate change, criticizing President Donald Trump’s attempt to curtail the flames.
In his speech, Biden said, “If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze? If you give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is underwater?
“You know what is actually threatening our suburbs? Wildfires are burning our suburbs in the West. If we have four more years of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned in wildfires?”
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump met with California Governor Newsom in a roundtable to discuss the best ways to tamper the fires.
Landing in Sacramento, President Trump spoke to reporters before the roundtable session. Speaking outside of Air Force One, he said, “When trees fall down after a short period of time — about 18 months — they become very dry. They become really like a matchstick. They just explode. They can explode. Also leaves. When you have years of leaves, dried leaves on the ground, it just sets it up. It’s really a fuel for a fire.
“So they have to do something about it. There has to be good, strong forest management, which I’ve been talking about for three years with the states, so hopefully they’ll start doing that.”
No matter what side of the discussion you land on, or which presidential candidate you side with on this issue, I think those of us in the cattle business prefer to look at problems from a boots-on-the-ground approach, using common sense to tackle problems instead of political pandering and smooth talking points...
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Cattle might be secret weapon in fight against wildfires, experts say. Here’s how
By Katie Camero, The Sacramento Bee (CA)
September 11, 2020
Evidence shows that wildfires have become more widespread and severe over the years, with the ongoing West Coast blazes bearing testament to the worrying trend.
Firefighters and farmers have tricks of their own to prevent fires from sparking and to contain them enough for successful defeat. But there might be a secret weapon that hasn’t been getting the attention it deserves.
Researchers with the University of California Cooperative Extension set out to evaluate how much fine fuel — grasses and other plants known to start fires — cattle eat and how their feeding behavior affects flame activity.
The team concluded that without cattle grazing, there would be “hundreds to thousands” of additional pounds of fine fuels per acre of land, which could lead to “larger and more severe fires.”
The team’s study results have yet to be published, but they offered their preliminary findings in a blog post published Aug. 31.
“Reducing fire hazard is not as simple as grazing rangelands to bare soil or even to low levels of fuel,” the researchers wrote in their blog post. “Widespread and severe wildfires are predicted to increase over time in California. This ‘new reality’ requires that we take advantage of all the tools in our management toolbox to protect public safety while meeting our broader rangeland management objectives.”
Planned fires, also called “controlled burns,” are often used to reduce dry fuels that can lead to destructive blazes, according to the National Park Service. These “prescribed fires” are also used to help endangered species recover and clear land for animals.
Beef cattle can be found grazing in every California county, according to the researchers, except San Francisco. In 2017, they consumed 11.6 billion pounds of fuel and roamed about 19.4 million acres of primarily private rangeland.
The team’s data comes from county crop data, Agricultural Census data and their own that they’ve collected over the years. But still, there are acres of grazable land untouched by cattle or very lightly exploited by the hungry animals, meaning “there are opportunities to improve fire safety,” the researchers wrote.
There’s also room for more cows to join the feast. The team learned that 1.8 million beef cattle grazed California lands in 2017, yet the number of cows there today “are only about 57% of their peak numbers in the 1980s.”
Sometimes, farmers purposely leave dry leafy remains on grazing lands to protect other aspects of the environment, such as future forage production, protection from soil erosion, and defense against certain weeds, the researchers explained.
Generally, fine fuels should be kept at or below 1,200 to 1,300 pounds per acre during the spring and summer to ensure flames, if a fire starts, stay below four feet — the “critical threshold that allows firefighters to safely access an area from the ground without heavy equipment,” the team said.
I’m from a long line of California ranchers. Now we flee fires all the time.
We live with the knowledge that we’ll face more ‘unprecedented’ disasters.
By Megan Brown, The Washington Post
September 14, 2020
Brown is a sixth-generation California cattle and hog rancher
California has five seasons: fall, winter, spring, summer and fire. For the six generations that my family has been commercial cattle ranching in this state, this has been our normal. The threat of fire is part of our landscape. Only recently has the season been this long, this deadly, this life-altering. I say this as a survivor of three major fires over four years: the Cherokee in 2017, the Camp in 2018, and now the Bear, which is part of the North Complex West Zone fires. The last two were called “unprecedented” at the time. These fires have not only altered the landscape of our community, they have stolen our sense of safety in our own homes.
My family has been in this area of California since the 1850s. We have always been aware of the fire danger in this area, and have grazed our cattle accordingly. Our cattle spend the winter in the Sacramento Valley, enjoying the rains and lush native grasses. By May, our cattle move to their summer pastures high in the Sierra Nevada, typically safe from fire. By letting our cattle graze the grassland in the foothills of the valley, we reduce the fire load for the fire season. This method mimics the patterns of native grazers in the area, who had adapted to fire season long before our family even thought about colonizing here.
Over the past five years, things have shifted noticeably. Our summer grazing season is longer and hotter. Fire has shifted from a background threat to a constant fear, from an “if” to a “when.” It seems like no matter how much our animals graze, no matter how much defensible space our communities create, these fires continue to grow extreme in both size and behavior. They act like nothing we have seen before. The disasters deal significant financial losses — the Camp Fire cost an estimated $16.5 billion. The emotional scars are harder to measure.
The first time I was forced to evacuate from a wind-driven fire, it was a primal experience. I had mere minutes in the dark, cinder-filled night to wake my family and grab possessions and documents that are essential to modern life. As a livestock owner I had to make split-second decisions about which terrified animals I thought I might be able to save, by loading into my stock trailer and taking them with me. Leaving behind animals I have dedicated my life to raising is a feeling from which I will never recover.
I was better prepared for the second evacuation and had more time, but the trauma from surviving a fire — a whisper over a year earlier — never left me. I knew what to expect: the damage, the profound loss. And yet reliving the nightmare again stirred up such strong emotions, that after I evacuated all I could do was cry and vomit.
The damage from the Cherokee fire totaled just under $4 million to our family ranch; we have yet to recover from it. The Camp Fire leveled communities and incinerated the infrastructure of the Miocene Canal, also a part of our ranch. This 25-mile-long canal served not only as a water source for farmers, ranchers and fire suppression — it served as an essential fire break. Without it, smaller fires have already burned ranches along its banks, exacerbating an already highly dangerous situation.
We are in the middle of fire season. The North Complex fire, the one threatening my home, encompasses over 264,000 acres as of this writing, burning many small communities down to scrap metal. Dry fuel, high winds and low humidity basically create a tinderbox in California. We cannot escape from the toxic, unbreathable air. Ash and grit coat our skin, hair and clothes. Going outside feels like being on another planet.
As we pack and flee from our homes yet again, my fear is mixed with frustration. My congressman, Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R), prides himself on standing up for the rural lifestyle and ran on campaign promises of “jobs, water, liberty” — but the Miocene is bone dry, and yet another fire rages in his district. LaMalfa continues to propose policies such as the Emergency Wildfire and Forest Management Act, consistently supported by the logging industry and opposed by environmental groups. He does not believe in man-made climate change. Disturbingly, he’s just part of a larger pattern of putting business interests before our environment, and refusing to address our planet’s crisis — a pattern reaching all the way to President Trump’s withdrawing the United States from the Paris agreement...
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