The unrelenting haze over the entire Northwest has once again sparked the debate about wildfires and land management. And rightly so. While fire can play an important and natural role in the ecosystem, the increasing prevalence of large-scale, catastrophic wildfires — such as the recent Soda fire in Owyhee County — should give us all cause to consider the effect of federal policy on our land and our communities. Limitations on land use play a strong role in the spread of fire. Simply put, when livestock grazing is reduced or eliminated, the grass grows and dries and becomes ideal fuel for fire.
Common sense alone can tell us that increased fuels on the rangeland will facilitate the spread of wildfire, and science certainly backs this up. The model for explaining the necessary components of a fire is known as the fire triangle. This triangle is composed of three factors: heat, fuel and oxygen. Two of these factors are beyond human control, through wind and lightning, and can cause wildfires to start up regardless of management actions. However, the third factor — fuel — can be managed through livestock grazing.
If fuels are carefully managed and reduced on a sustainable level through livestock grazing, the intensity of wildfires are also reduced, making fuels much more manageable. Peer-reviewed studies have clearly demonstrated that grazing reduces the threat of catastrophic wildfire by controlling the fuel load and increasing productivity of grasses that are less prone to fire. Furthermore, carefully managed and timed grazing post-fire can help to control the spread of invasive species, which, if not controlled, only contribute to the frequency of the fire cycle.
Recently, the Times-News printed a letter to the editor on this topic submitted by the Western Watersheds Project executive director. This letter came as no surprise, given the extremist, spiteful nature of this organization, whose sole purpose is to rid the West of cattle with no real regard for the environment. It is ironic that the actions of this, and other like-minded radical organizations, are exactly what prevent the federal government from adequately managing the rangeland. Through their manipulation of well-intended federal laws, these groups have uncovered an ability to limit and control land use through unceasing litigation — all done at the expense of the American taxpayer. Under the false pretense of environmentalism, the obstructionist WWP has pilfered over $2.5 million from the government in Idaho grazing cases alone, wholly disregarding what is actually best for the environment. The result of their actions is the paralyzation of on-the-ground, common sense land management by federal land agencies and reduced grazing rights for Idaho’s ranchers. These land use limitations create circumstances that can lead to catastrophic wildfires, which leave a path of destruction for the land, wildlife, and communities in their wake.
Idaho’s cattle ranching families have the best interest of Idaho’s land and wildlife at heart. After all, if they don’t take care of the land, the land doesn’t take care of them, and their livelihoods become unsustainable. As we’re now engaging in a dialogue about wildfires and land management, it makes sense to consider the widespread benefits of livestock grazing and promote policy changes that will enable site-specific land use and grazing decisions. Land managers have a tool readily available to help win this battle. This is a win-win situation for all — fuels can be reduced through livestock grazing, and Idaho’s ranching families can turn the sustainable resource provided for us on our rangelands into a much-needed protein source for the world’s plate.