A United States Department of Agriculture evaluation project observing the effectiveness of cattle grazing as a tool in fighting wildfires has seen success. In August, targeted grazing created a firebreak that kept a rangeland fire near Beowawe, Nevada to just 54 acres.
On Oct. 1 the Agriculture Research Service, a facet of the USDA, released an article crediting the successful limitation of the August fire to targeted cattle grazing on an almost half mile-wide strip of cheatgrass.
This cattle-created firebreak is one of nine across Idaho, Nevada and Oregon all contributing to the ARS Targeted Grazing Demonstration Monitoring Project. This is an evaluation to determine the viability and potential impacts of targeted grazing as a means of containing and gaining control of wildfires.
Pat Clark, the ARS rangeland scientist overseeing the study, is tracking the fuel reduction by targeted grazing as well as monitoring environmental health at the nine firebreak areas.
In the targeted grazing study, cattle graze highly flammable cheatgrass during the early spring to create firebreaks by reducing potential fuel down to two to three inch stubble in strategic places.
The firebreaks produced from this strategic grazing act to slow fire spread, decrease fire intensity and facilitate safer and more effective fire attack and containment by firefighters.
Cattle must be introduced to the target areas during a dynamic spring window when cheatgrass is palatable and sought out by the cattle. This window is subject to change every year based on temperatures and soil moisture.
Cheatgrass is an invasive species that grows quickly in the early spring and then dies in early summer creating a dry and extremely flammable fuel source during prime fire season.
The invasive species occupies more than 100 million acres of the Great Basin region that encompasses the research area. This region has the nation’s highest wildfire risk due to the increased speed of its rangeland grass fires over forest fires.
The evaluation project began in 2017 as an interagency partnership with the ARS, Bureau of Land Management, National Range Conservation Service and United States Geological Service.
With an anticipated completion date in 2022, the ARS partnered with federal, state and local facets of these agencies along with cattle ranchers in the three-state region to implement the study.
The Beowawe firebreak credited with limiting August’s rangeland fire is also credited with holding the 2018 Boulder Creek fire to little over 1,000 acres.
Story by: Mikyla Bagley
Photos by: Mikyla Bagley