Agriculture can help reduce the risk of wildfire and needs strategies to cope with the impacts

The frequency and severity of catastrophic wildfires are increasing in California for a combination of reasons, including: climate change, a century of fire suppression, past logging practices, the dislocation of indigenous peoples and their longstanding cultural fire practices, increased human-caused ignitions, and increased development in high fire-risk areas. A warming climate means the impacts of wildfire are likely to continue worsening for many years to come.

Wildfires have a range of impacts on the state’s agricultural communities. These include exposure to toxic air pollution, direct fire damage to farms and ranches, smoke damage to crops, forced evacuations, increased insurance premiums in rural areas, post-fire soil erosion, and negative impacts to water quality.

Farmers, ranchers, tribes, and other land stewards are eager to be part of the solution by scaling up cultural and prescribed fire and targeted grazing on both private and public lands. These practices, when applied at the right time and place, offer many ecological, health, climate, resilience, and cultural benefits, but have been hampered by liability and permitting issues and limited funding to support regional planning, coordination, and training for landowners, land managers, local governments, and various local and state agencies.

Some of the powerful strategies and related policies that farmers, ranchers and other land stewards are using to combat the growing risk of uncontrollable wildfire and protect animals and workers include:

Cultural and Prescribed Fire

Controlled burns consist of low-intensity fires that are intentionally lit in ideal weather conditions to treat a specified area to achieve specific objectives (e.g. reduce fine or ladder fuels, enhance native species, and/or manage invasive species). Benefits of cultural and prescribed fire include:

  • Reduced health impacts
  • Reduced catastrophic fire
  • Improved ecosystem benefits, including reduced invasive species, increased native species, and improved water quality (from reduced erosion) and quantity (from improved upper watershed health and infiltration)
  • Reduced GHG emissions and increased carbon sequestration
  • Restored cultural relationship with fire

You can check out our webinar on controlled burns here.

Targeted Grazing

Targeted grazing can reduce invasive weeds (e.g., yellow starthistle), fine fuels (e.g., grasses) and ladder fuels (e.g., shrubs/brush). The benefits of targeted grazing include:

  • Reduced chemical and fuel use
  • Increased carbon sequestration
  • Wool and meat production
  • Reduced fire flame length and intensity,
  • Numerous ecosystem benefits, including:
    • Reduced invasive species and noxious weeds
    • Less seed death after fire
    • More plant diversity in regrowth after fire
    • Improved oak survival after fire in oak woodlands

You can check out our webinar on targeted grazing here.

Related Bill History

SB 332 (Sen. Dodd) –Limits liability for certified burn bosses and private land owners when performing, supervising or overseeing prescribed burns properly, that could support expanded use of this wildfire mitigation practice.

AB 1103 (Asm. Dahle) — Authorizes counties to establish a Livestock Pass Program to facilitate access by producers to their animals during or following a flood, storm, fire, earthquake, or other disaster. Access would be limited to those needing to protect the wellbeing of their livestock.

AB 642 (Asm. Friedman) — Addresses numerous institutional barriers (e.g. training, permits, employee retention, etc.) to scaling up cultural and prescribed burns as a wildfire mitigation strategy. This bill also requires CalFIRE to update and improve wildfire severity maps.

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