We Need To Manage Resources and Prevent Catastrophic Wildfires


We get it. 2015 has been dry, major portions of the West are in the middle of a big drought and things will catch on fire. But it doesn’t have to be this bad.drought monitor western states

In a previous post, I briefly discussed the impact wildfires are having on Western states this year, specifically the ranching communities and livestock grazing. We have the tools to prevent such catastrophic fires, but aren’t always allowed to employ those resources.

In recent decades, grazing has been slowly restricted in many of these areas by pressure to preserve ground for wildlife, or a mindset by activists that ‘natural’ means leaving ground untouched. Sometimes in the interest of wildlife conservation, or due to perceived conflict with recreation. Activist groups have no interest in hearing about the work ranches do to co-exist with wildlife or properly manage our resources. They simply want people off all the open land. Period.

This has placed pressure on our public land managers and federal agencies to restrict grazing and slowly erode grazing permits. Grazing permits have failed to be reissued, grazing allotments have been closed, and managing agencies have made it more difficult for livestock producers to work with their requirements. This all has a cascading effect on rural communities who depend on ranching economies and make up a majority of the vast Western states.

In reality, the environment here is best suited for grazing and is dependent on grazing animals to maintain healthy growth and balance between forested and open lands. Natural does not equate untouched. Grazing is healthy for the land, water, air, and ranchers are great stewards of managing these resources so we may all enjoy them.

The Western Governors’ Association agrees that our federal lands should and can be managed better. The WSA policy supports adaptive management of federal lands and encourages federal agencies be held accountable for their work with livestock grazers on public lands.

Science is on our side as well.

montana public lands forest rangeland ecologyTake a quick search on google scholar and see what you’ll find. There are decades of studies and research from around the world that show managing forest and rangelands with grazing – which reduces fuel load and ensure healthy growth of plants – as a tool results in less intense wildfires with quicker recovery for the land, including plants and wildlife. These tools include the use of controlled burns, timber harvest and proper grazing.

Yes, you will find information displaying the harmful results of improper use of the land resulting in overgrazing, loss of biodiversity, and severe erosion of resources. Those people exist. The Dust Bowl occurred. Now we know better. We can’t change history, but we can learn from those experiences. And we have.

A majority of ranchers I’ve met in these Western states are doing great things with their grazing practices and monitoring the progress being made. This is not exclusive to those catering to niche markets with labels of grass-fed, holistic management, organic, natural, or any other special value-added program. These are conventional ranchers who are paying closer attention to their management practices, helping the land recover from scars of poor management in the past, turning our environment to a productive, healthy land with clean water, sustaining large wildlife populations (population management of which is a completely separate can of worms) and ensuring we have a better place for the next generation.

Just as we experience in conversations on the food front, a vocal minority from environmentalist groups are pushing their versions of conservation and ‘natural’ on federal agencies. This is based on emotion and not on science or experience on the ground. We have the tools and knowledge to manage these lands better and livestock are a part of that system. It’s kind of like letting a New York Times writer pen a scathing, false report attacking an academic researcher doing his job in the field of biotechnology and not even recognizing that “herbacide” is not a word. Let’s allow the people on the ground with knowledge, background and experience manage these lands with the tools we have available, not let it be driven by emotional activism.

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6 Comments

  1. This was an interesting post. I have a question. I suspect we have many, many more cattle grazing now than we ever have before, certainly more than the buffalo that used to populate the grasslands. I don’t know the numbers, but with a vastly expanded population that wants meat, it seems like a reasonable assumption. So my question is this: isn’t there a possibility that these much greater numbers might have a negative impact on the environment, even with good management?

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    1. Good question Leslie, and thank you for stopping by.

      Estimates provide that bison populations in North America reached as much as 20 to 30 million at one time, estimates vary.

      Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which issues grazing permits reports livestock grazing in AUM (Animal Units per Month – “amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month”). “Grazing use on public lands has declined from 18.2 million AUMs in 1954 to 8.3 million AUMs in 2014 (a 54 percent decrease).”

      So no, there are not more livestock grazing today according to the numbers listed by our federal agencies. According to conversations I’ve had with ranchers on grazing allotments here in Montana, their experience and accounts reflect this decline in numbers allowed to grazing public lands. It’s also important to recognize that livestock grazing is much more managed than wild bison grazing, who over and under utilized areas, as can be observed on their grazing areas in Yellowstone National Park today. Livestock grazing is more intensively managed, providing for more evenly distributed utilization and rest time on the forages.

      Sorry for the length of response. Hope that helps!

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  2. Interesting blog post. You are right we need to manage our natural resources and prevent catastrophes. Wildfires cause a huge not only to the landscape but as well as our atmosphere. I support you all the way & commend you for the concern you show for our environment. We nee more people like you.

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