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Rangeland Summit addresses the impacts of wildfire on rancher sustainability

The Issue

The increase in catastrophic wildfires in recent years has posed significant challenges to land managers and ranchers alike. Unfortunately, severe wildfires on public and private land can reduce the size of a herd, reduce foraging areas, destroy infrastructure and may eliminate future grazing use especially on public lands. Each of these losses leads to challenging management decisions for ranchers and can add substantial costs to their operations. However, opportunities exist for land managers and ranchers to work together on pre- and post-wildfire strategies.

What Has ANR Done?

In January 2016, the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) teamed up with the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition (CRCC) to host the 2016 Rangeland Summit for 300 ranchers, land managers, students, and nongovernmental organizations. Nearly half of the participants oversee more than 10,000 acres of rangeland. Sixty-five percent of the participants have had direct experience with rangeland wildfire and suffered loss of livestock, forage area, and future use of a public land grazing leases as a result. Speakers from UCCE, the California Cattleman’s Association, CalFire, and local ranchers discussed the interaction between private and public lands, as well as the economic and management impacts of wildfires. Presenters identified prevention and preparation strategies, such as, reducing understory vegetation, increasing firebreaks, and grading roads, as well as mapping roads and water sources and keeping water tanks full. Videos of each presentation are available here: http://ucanr.edu/2016summit.

The Payoff

Summit leads to increased understanding of opportunities

Survey results indicate that the Summit led to a better understanding of the relationship between private and public lands, the economic impacts faced by ranchers, as well as the barriers that limit agencies’ ability to reduce wildfire impact. As a result of the Summit, there is greater interest in planning, collaboration, and use of livestock grazing. Attendees agreed that livestock grazing is valuable as a pre-fire management tool to reduce wildfire severity. Also, participants identified opportunities for collaboration, such as coordinating emergency response within and between agencies and ranchers; working more closely with fire departments; and explaining how local ranchers can help when fires occur. One rancher has already reached out to his UCCE advisor to create a communication and response plan with CalFire. Participants and presenters agree that more research is needed to help understand the impact of post-fire grazing, the value of different livestock species on fuel reduction, and ecological effects of grazing and long-term rest.


Sheila Barry, Santa Clara County Director, sbarry@ucanr.edu
Theresa Becchetti, Farm Advisor, tabecchetti@ucanr.edu
Karen Sweet, CA Rangeland Conservation Coalition, ksweet@cattlemen.net