UC Cooperative Extension researchers
found that across California, cattle remove, on
average, 596 pounds per acre of fuel. This
varied from about 174 pounds per acre in the
southwest interior region to about 1,020 pounds per
acre in the San Joaquin-Sierra region.
University of California Cooperative Extension researchers just
completed a timely study showing cattle grazing is an essential
tool in reducing wildfire — a tool they say should be expanded
Recent record-shattering wildfires across California, Oregon and
Washington have demonstrated the need for better fire control.
Researchers say their study shows that without the 1.8 million
beef cattle that graze California’s rangelands annually, the
state would have hundreds to thousands of additional pounds per
acre of fine fuels on the landscape, and this year’s wildfires
would be even more devastating. Researchers say cattle grazing
is underutilized on public and private lands and targeted
grazing should be expanded.
“Cattle grazing directly impacts fuel load and fire behavior,”
said Felix Ratcliff, a rangeland consultant who contributed to
Researchers say more private landowners and public land agencies
should contract for grazing.
About 40% of California is grazed, according to Sheila Barry,
University of California natural resource and livestock adviser
and researcher in the study.
But many grazable acres aren’t grazed, she said.
The public, said Barry, often does not see benefits of grazing;
they see short grass and cow patties. Cattle’s role in
preventing wildfires, she said, is often overlooked.
Justin Oldfield, executive director of the California Cattle
Council, which funded the research, told the Capital Press he
hopes the study demonstrates grazing benefits.
Some public land agencies already use cattle.
Allison Rofe, rangeland specialist for East Bay Parks in
California, said she considers cattle grazing of annual
grasslands the “single most effective passive management tool”
in fire control.
The East Bay Regional Park District, she said, leases 70% of its
123,000 acres for grazing.
Rofe said the district’s popular lease program has a waiting
Alan Renz, a cattle rancher with 20 leases, said leasing public
land demands more driving time, diesel and employees. But it
also provides financial opportunities, forage and security; if
one property burns, he still has 19 others.
But grazing more land isn’t the end-all solution. Researchers
say grazing needs to be targeted.
Statewide, researchers found cattle remove, on average, 596
pounds of fuel per acre. In some regions with more forage,
cattle would need to consume another 180 pounds per acre to
bring grass down to 800 pounds per acre, which keeps flame
lengths below four feet, a critical threshold for accessibility
Not every area should be grazed to 800 pounds per acre,
researchers say. Farmers have competing goals. Preventing
erosion and promoting forage require more grass, while
preventing fire requires less.
Renz, the rancher, called it a balancing act.
“If I don’t graze it enough, fire. If I graze it all the way
down, nothing left to eat,” he said.
Devii Rao, livestock and natural resources adviser at the
University of California Cooperative Extension and the study’s
lead, said ranchers should target grazing around homes,
infrastructure, roadsides and at the wildland-urban interface.
Researchers also encourage ranchers to consider mixed-species
“There are so many things we can do better. Cattle grazing is
really important to fire safety, and it’s time we have more
conversations about it,” said Rao.
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C.
section 107, any copyrighted material
herein is distributed without profit or
payment to those who have expressed a
prior interest in receiving this
information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only. For more
information go to: