Monday, September 12, 2016

BLM experiments with targeted grazing, using cattle to 'mow' fire breaks in the Owyhee Front

The Bureau of Land Management is increasingly moving toward the use of large fire breaks in strategic areas to help control range fires in Idaho and the Great Basin. Fire breaks are often created next to existing roads to provide an anchor point for slowing down or stopping fires. The idea is to keep range fires smaller to preserve native sage-steppe habitat. In recent years, the trend has been growing toward large, destructive range fires in southern Idaho. In low-precipitation areas of the Snake River Plain, range fires are growing in size, and in some cases, they’ve burned the same ground repeatedly over time. When that occurs, native shrub-steppe habitat gets destroyed, and cheatgrass and invasive weeds take over. That’s why the BLM is working on creating more fire breaks and anchor points to stop range fires dead in their tracks. “As fires move into these fuel breaks, they not only break apart but the flame length gets reduced quite a bit,” says Lance Okeson, assistant fire management officer for the BLM Boise District. Fire breaks can be made by mowing vegetation next to dirt roads, planting green strips with hardy perennials, and using targeted grazing with livestock. “Targeted grazing is a fairly new concept,” says Karen Launchbaugh, professor of rangeland ecology and director of the Rangeland Center at the University of Idaho. “A lot of work has been done with sheep and goats to manage invasive plants. Now we’re seeing more use by cattle because cattle eat grass, and grass is the fuel we’re concerned about with wildfires.”...more

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