Livestock grazing and wildfires

Cattle and Deer Graze Together
Cattle and deer graze together on the Cochetopa National Forest in Colorado. USFS photo from a 1938 slide show.

A Nevada state Assemblyman has written an op-ed piece for the Winnemucca, Nevada Silver Pinyon Journal about livestock grazing and its relationship to wildfires. Assemblyman Ira Hansen, who is a licensed master plumber and owns a plumbing and heating business, is running for reelection and is not afraid to express his opinions. Here are some excerpts from his article in the February 22 edition of the newspaper:


“At our January 27, 2012 Public Lands Committee meeting, a briefing paper by Bob Sommer, Fire Staff Officer for the Humboldt – Toiyabe National Forest, U.S. Forest Service, was read into the record. A single paragraph caught my eye: “…in 2007, the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Service issued a report titled “Northeastern Nevada Wildfires 2006, part 2 – Can livestock grazing be used to reduce wildfires? They concluded “…livestock grazing is not a panacea for wildfire reduction on Northern Nevada rangelands.”

I had read the 2006 UNR report mentioned and recalled a quite different conclusion. In fact, the UNR report reads: “Can livestock grazing reduce the risk of large recurring wildfires? In a word yes, but with limitations…In site specific situations, livestock can be used as a tool to lower fire risk by reducing the amount, height and distribution of fuel. Livestock can also be used to manage invasive weeds in some cases and even to improve wildlife habitat. This under-utilized tool (emphasis mine)…”

In short, while grazing is not a “panacea”, (which means “cure-all”) it is a valuable tool and in the opinion of the authors of the 2006 UNR report an “under-utilized” tool as well.


Also to consider is the business end of fires. As James Young, UNR range scientist for 43 years noted, “Fire suppression [has become] a multi-million dollar business that reaches from the rangelands of Nevada to corporate America It is not in everyone’s interest to biologically suppress the cheatgrass-wildfire cycle on Nevada rangelands.”

Today hundreds if not thousands are employed in a government funded range fire industry that was a token of what we see today when compared to only a little over a decade ago. The BLM/Forest Service fire budget is now in the hundreds of millions, and a range reseeding/recovery industry has been spawned as well, all relying paradoxically on a continuation of range fires. A conflict of interests exists; the successful long term solving of the million acre fires means the elimination of employment for this dramatically expanded bureaucracy.”


Lonely highway in Nevada
A motorcyclist riding a Yamaha FJR 1300 on a lonely highway in Nevada, August 16, 2011. Photo by Marsha Rogers


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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

5 thoughts on “Livestock grazing and wildfires”

  1. I only charged $3.00 per head for grazing rights on my land (40 acres – 30 acres grazing, 10 acres for winter hay x 2-3 cuts/yr). Prime fescue.

    I was pretty happy with the cattle keeping the place pretty free of briars, brush, and limbing up the Red Cedars. Seemed like a pretty good trade-off (much like the “subsidized” costs of federal grazing).

    I’m going to have to re-evaluate my fee schedule now: Top end – $11/50/head, low end – $1.35/head.


  2. Cheap federal grazing has been going on for a long time. It used to be called the Grazing Service. A method called “Chaining” was used to clear off native plants and allow better non-native livestock friendly ones to grow.

  3. The UNR Range Science Program is a multi-million dollar business that reaches from the rangelands of Nevada to the tenured folks living in the Ivory Tower of Academe. It is not in everyone’s interest to suppress the subsidized public lands grazing by a few politically powerful ranchers in NV.

    “If you can’t be part of the solution, there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem.” — motto of all highly paid consultants

    1. I pasture my Black Angus cow/calf pairs on private pasture during the summer months for about $23/pair per month; the rate on Fed lands under the USFS & BLM is $1.35. I’m just pleased as punch as a taxpayer to be subsidizing my competition.


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