Targeted Grazing for Fire and Climate Benefits

Posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2019 by
Wildfire Getty Images

California wildfire season starts earlier, lasts longer and devastates towns, farms, ranches and infrastructure. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in 2018, California experienced, “the largest, deadliest and most destructive wildfires on record”. CalCAN recently released a publication highlighting the various impacts farms and ranches are experiencing due to climate change. In the publication we explore how farmers and ranchers are extremely vulnerable to climate change, while at the same time, uniquely positioned to be part of the solution.

As we approach the hottest and driest time of the year, the fear of wildfire looms large, many calling to mind destruction from recent years. For Kyle Magruder, rancher in Mendocino County, the 2017-2018 wildfire season claimed 45 head of cattle and reduced 6,000 acres of his rangeland to char. Ranchers are among those who face uncertainty through the fire season and yet they also hold a key tool to help mitigate the impact of wildfires through the use of their livestock. Kyle remains hopeful despite the past destruction, “Catastrophic wildfires like the ones my community experienced aren’t inevitable. Ranchers can use management techniques like prescribed grazing and controlled burning to influence the intensity, timing and frequency of fire, and safeguard our communities and climate at the same time.” To read more about Kyle and ways farms and ranches can scale up climate resilient strategies, check out our recent publication: Cultivating Climate Resilience in Farming.

Sonoma County UC Cooperative Extension Livestock and Rangeland Advisor, Stephanie Laron and Senior Agircultural Program Assistant, Michelle Nozzari, explore how targeted grazing can be scaled up as part of a wildfire mitigation strategy in Sonoma and Marin counties. In a recent article, “Meet Your Perfect Match to Reduce Fire Fuels,” they explain how targeted grazing is a cost-effective vegetation management strategy. They define targeted grazing as, “the application of a specific kind of livestock at a determined season, duration and intensity to accomplish defined vegetation or landscape goals.” In other words, it is the use of livestock to achieve a specific purpose, also called prescribed grazing. In Sonoma County, due to recent wildfires, there is a new ordinance mandating that parcels of five acres or less need to remove all vegetation that pose a fire risk. Therefore, in certain areas, like landscapes that are steep, rocky or remote, utilizing livestock can be a cost-effective way to manage the vegetation and reduce fire fuels. To promote grazing as a mitigation tool the Sonoma Marin UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) has created a “Match.Graze” system to connect landowners with targeted grazers. Read the full article here.

Strategic livestock management strategies like targeted grazing are not only important as a wildfire mitigation tool, but also for multiple climate benefits. Rotational grazing can increase soil carbon sequestration, water infiltration and water storage, above and below ground biodiversity and resiliency to climate change. Perennial grasses and oaks, which make up most of California’s rangelands, are able to store carbon in their tissue and draw carbon into the soil through their extensive root systems, feeding microbes in the soil. Utilizing livestock is a valuable tool in advancing agriculture’s climate solutions and ability to store more carbon. To learn more about how agriculture’s climate solutions, see CalCAN’s Climate Change Solutions in California Agriculture publication.

Even though wildfire season is lasting longer than before, with innovative approaches like targeted grazing, we are able to minimize fire danger and sequester more carbon. Increased outreach and education on when to use what species of grazers and connections like those fostered through the Sonoma Marin UCCE “Match.Graze system” are needed throughout the state to combat wildfires and increase carbon storage. For more information about how grazing can be part of the climate solution and reduce the frequency and intensity of fires, visit the UC Cooperative Extension website on grazing.

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