Reducing Wildfire Spread with Targeted Grazing
Wildfire is a natural event on sagebrush landscapes that cover vast areas in western North America. However, wildfires have been increasing in size and severity in recent decades. Changing climate, exotic plant invasion, and habitat fragmentation are dynamic threats to sagebrush ecosystems that are promoting wildland fire frequency and restricting recovery and restoration of these ecosystems. Ever-increasing fires remove sagebrush and favor regrowth of more fire-tolerant annual and perennial grasses. Because fire is lethal to sagebrush and sagebrush is slow to regenerate after fire, these frequent fires dramatically alter sagebrush plant communities and degrade wildlife habitat.
One potential “fix” for this cycle of sagebrush endangerment is targeted grazing: focusing livestock on grasses to reduce the amount of herbaceous fine fuel available for burning. The Rangeland Center is conducting targeted grazing studies in pastures in the Reynolds Creek area, in Owyhee County, Idaho. Because this region has experienced more fires of greater than 300 acres than nearly anywhere else in the nation, practical rangeland management tools to reduce the frequency and extent of wildfires are urgently needed.
Targeted grazing can reduce the amount of herbaceous fine fuels. It can also break up the continuity of the fuel matrix in sagebrush steppe, creating patchy burns with unburned sagebrush “islands” that become seed sources for re-establishment of plants after a fire. This project is aimed at quantifying the effects of grazing to reduce fuels, thereby influencing fire behavior. The Rangeland Center hopes to demonstrate to land owners and managers in quantitative, graphic ways how to use targeting grazing in the best service of the land.
Rangeland Center Members Involved:
- Eva Strand — Forest, Rangeland and Fires Sciences (contact Eva for more information)
- Scott Jensen — UI Extension, Owyhee County
- Karen Launchbaugh — Forest, Rangeland and Fires Sciences