Livestock industry highlights use of grazing to prevent wildfires

Number of federal grazing permits continues to shrink as new grass growth explodes.

In what is being called an unprecedented year for wildfires, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. (NCBA) and the Public Lands Council (PLC) recently kicked off a media and advertising campaign to shine a spotlight on how grazing on public lands helps mitigate the risk of catastrophic wildfires – the leading threat to species like the greater sage grouse. The campaign will be centered around a new website, GrazingPreventsWildfires.com, and will run through May.

“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," said Ethan Lane, executive director of PLC and NCBA's Federal Lands. "These 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 BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and Forest Service staff to make the right management decisions on the ground.”

In addition to the launch of the new website, the campaign kicked off with a two-minute video that will be heavily promoted on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. The video features Darcy Helmick, land manager for Simplot Livestock Co. in southern Idaho. In the kickoff video, Helmick walks through a vast, dense, BLM grass field in rural Owyhee County, Ida., 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, so no more of this forage will be removed prior to fire season,” Helmick points out. "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, op-eds and other materials aimed at educating policy-makers, reporters and other industry stakeholders in Washington, D.C., and around the country.

“The time to address this threat is now, while we still have a chance to get ahead of the game," Lane said. "Congress and the Administration need to provide staff on the ground with the flexibility to use grazing as a tool to protect sagebrush and native forage before a fire and make sure ranchers can get back into those burned areas quickly after a fire to prevent the spread of invasive weeds like cheatgrass.”

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