GOATs help with fire prevention

New teams of wildfire prevention experts are sprouting up across the world, but they aren’t made up of hotshots or forest managers — they’re herds of goats.

Michael Choi is the creator of Fire Grazers Inc., a fire brush management company that deploys free-range goats in fire-prone areas around California to clear dead vegetation and prevent wildfires.

“Our goal is to assist in the management of fire-hazardous zones through fuel modification, thereby addressing an accelerating regional problem that threatens the livelihood and prosperity of many residents of California,” Choi said on his website. “Our grazing goats can clear an unbelievable amount of brush and weeds. A well-sized herd can complete a job in a single day that would take two or three times as long with a landscaping crew.”

Before and after views with GoatsRock fire prevention.
Before and after views with GoatsRock fuels reduction.

 

Goats’ mountain climbing expertise gives them a leg up on other wildfire managers. Some areas that may be treacherous for humans are easily scalable for goats, including steep hillsides and canyons.

Fire Grazers Inc. has been around since the early 2010s, but Choi’s technique is getting noticed across the world. Chile’s goat brigades have prevented both wildfires and erosion in the country’s forests, Nevada deployed goats in Reno through a state-funded program, and the City of Quesnel in central British Columbia announced in June it had deployed a herd of 132 goats to eat vegetation in and around designated Fuel Management Trails.

Quesnel’s strategy has been a success. While multiple wildfires burned around the area of the city in 2023, none threatened the city’s residents. The Quesnel Cariboo Observer reported that multiple wildfires west of Quesnel in August triggered evacuations in the nearby town of Eliguk Lake in August. Two other evacuations in July were triggered by the Townsend Creek Fire. British Columbia had its worst fire season on record in 2023, with over three million hectares burned.

Quesnel still stands. The city sits in one of the lowest-priority fire danger areas of the province, according to Canada’s Government. The goats are looking to keep it that way.

https://goatsrock.com/uploads/3/5/2/6/35260684/img-8939_orig.jpg
Some of GOATSROCK’s herd — Michael Choi

 

Utah wins Bronze Smokey for prevention

Utah burned much more than usual in 2020 and, more than ever before, humans were to blame. The state had its worst year of human-caused wildfires on record that year, when 1,500 wildfires burned more than 100,000 acres of land across the state. Officials say 1,143 of those fires were caused by humans, beating the state’s previous single-year record by more than 250.

Utah wins a Bronze SmokeyUtah launched a statewide campaign called “Fire Sense” to reduce human-caused wildfires, and it was incredibly effective. The state marked a 60 percent reduction in human-caused wildfires in the two years following the start of the program. In 2023 that number has gone down even more, with only 295 of Utah’s 772 wildfires recorded as human-caused as of October 6.

A Bronze Smokey
A Bronze Smokey

The program was recently awarded a Bronze Smokey, which is a national award for statewide service, for its by-the-numbers success.

“This is a great honor for Fire Sense,” said Kayli Guild, the Fire Prevention and Communications Coordinator for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands (FFSL), after receiving the Bronze Smokey. “We launched this campaign to raise awareness surrounding the impact our behaviors as humans have on wildfire starts. Over the past two years, we have seen a drastic decrease in human-caused starts as we have seen Utahns implement Fire Sense.”

Fire Sense is basically a PSA package geared toward educating Utah’s residents about how they can help avoid starting wildfires throughout the state. All of the usual bases are covered, including telling people to put out their campfires, not drag chains, and not fire guns on hot and windy days. The execution of the project, however, seems to be what made it so effective.

“This strategy worked because Fire Sense is common sense!” according to FFSL . More details on the Fire Sense program are available from the utahfiresense.org website.


Smokey Award Levels:

Gold: This is the highest honor given to organizations or individuals for outstanding wildfire prevention service that is national in scope over at least a two-year period. A maximum of three Gold Smokey Bear awards may be given annually.

 

Silver: This is the highest honor given to organizations or individuals for outstanding wildfire prevention service that is regional (multistate) in scope over at least a two-year period. A maximum of five Silver Smokey Bear awards may be given annually.

Bronze: This is the highest honor given to organizations or individuals for outstanding wildfire prevention service that has impact within a state over at least a two-year period. A maximum of 10 Bronze Smokey Bear awards may be given annually.

 

Saving carbon hotspots from burning could prevent wildfires

Keeping wildland fires from spreading to human communities is the first and foremost priority of the U.S. Forest Service’s firefighters, according to the agency’s 2022 Wildfire Crisis Strategy Implementation Plan.

“Community exposure is a central factor in the strategy to confront the wildfire crisis,” the plan’s text reads. The plan goes on to identify what it called “high-risk firesheds” within National Forest Systems lands that it would focus on shifting land management towards increasing fuels and forest health treatments.

Recent research published in the Environmental Research Letters journal, however, found that the USFS hallmark decade-long plan misses the mark and doesn’t truly address what would stop more intense wildfires from igniting in the centuries to come: reducing carbon lost by wildland fire.

Conifer forests throughout the western U.S. play an integral role in sequestering and storing carbon in Earth’s atmosphere when these forests have a wildfire burning through them, carbon is not lost equally. Higher amounts of litter, duff and downed woody material consumed by fire, as well as post-fire decomposing trees, cause a greater risk of carbon loss. An increase in carbon output into Earth’s atmosphere will further increase the effects of climate change and, in turn, make wildfires more widespread and intense.

The study, a collaboration with the Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy, and University of Montana researchers, first evaluated where carbon was the most exposed and sensitive to wildfires. “Exposed” was defined as the largest concentrated areas of living and dead biomass’ burn probability, while “sensitive” compared areas for potential carbon loss and carbon recovery following wildland fire. They found that the most exposed carbon was not necessarily the most sensitive to wildfire.

“Relative to their total conifer forest area, states containing the greatest proportion of most exposed carbon … were California (63%), New Mexico (49%), and Arizona (44%),” researchers said. “In contrast, states with the greatest proportion of most sensitive carbon … were New Mexico (74%), Utah (67%), and Colorado (66%).”

Researchers then built upon the agency’s “high-risk firesheds” by combining high-risk areas for human communities and high-risk areas for wildfire-caused carbon loss.

Firesheds represented in gold to emphasize that improving reciprocal relationships between humans and forests can support multiple ecological, social, and cultural values concurrently.
Firesheds represented in gold to emphasize that improving reciprocal relationships between humans and forests can support multiple ecological, social, and cultural values concurrently.

“After overlaying our 308 opportunity hot spots on previously published maps of 140 high-risk all-lands firesheds for human communities, we observed that 64 firesheds overlapped,” the researchers said. “Here we represented those firesheds in gold to emphasize that improving reciprocal relationships between humans and forests can support multiple ecological, social, and cultural values concurrently.”

Read the full study [HERE].

Smokey Bear says he’s now inside of us all in new ad

“Don’t want to start a wildfire, right?” are the last words in the USFS’s latest advertisement featuring Smokey Bear. Well, sort of.

While Smokey Bear does make an appearance, it’s not as a tangible being. Instead, Smokey seems to have become an omnipresent entity that can take over the bodies of humans in order to tell others how to not start wildfires.

screenshot from Smokey's new campfire ad
screenshot from Smokey’s new campfire ad

The “Smokey Is Within” ad campaign shows the spirit of Smokey taking over two women:  one attending a camp outing telling her friends how to properly douse a campfire, and another hiking on the side of a road who instructs a driver on how to not drag his trailer’s chains.

NEW Smokey ad -- he's in you.
NEW Smokey ad — he’s in you.

Numerous boreal forests across the U.S. are still reckoning with Smokey’s legacy of fire suppression. Forest managers, including the USFS itself, have confirmed that a century of fire suppression is the root cause of the increased fuel loads and more intense wildfires we see today.

However, the vast majority of wildfires are still caused by humans — often in exactly the ways demonstrated in the advertisements. Smokey’s pivot toward personal responsibility, rather than bashing a living history of prescribed fires, might be a step in the right direction for the problematic bear.

You can watch the two new ads [HERE] and [HERE].

 

Grants available in Colorado for forest restoration and wildfire risk reduction

Colorado State Forest Service
Colorado State Forest Service

As outlined in the Steamboat Pilot, there are two main types of qualifying projects for funding:

    1. Fuels and Forest Health Projects — must reduce risk of damage to property, infrastructure, water supplies, or other high-value assets from wildfire, or limit the likelihood of wildfires spreading into populated areas. Projects must promote forest health through sciene-based forestry practices that restore ecosystem functions, structures, and species composition.
    2. Capacity Building Projects — must increase community capacity by providing the community with resources and staffing necessary for forest restoration and wildfire risk mitigation projects.

The following individuals, organizations, or entities may apply:

    • Local community groups such as homeowner, neighborhood, or property associations located within or close to the wildland/urban interface.
    • Local government entities including counties, municipalities, fire protection districts, and other special districts in or near the interface.
    • Public or private utilities, including water providers, with infrastructure or land ownership in areas with high risk of catastrophic wildfires.
    • Nonprofit groups that promote hazardous fuels reduction projects or that engage in firefighting or fire management.

Applicants must demonstrate an ability to match 50 percent of the total project cost. Matching contributions can be cash, in-kind, or a combination of both, and may be in the form of private, local government, state or federal support for the project.

Contact your local field office for details. More information is available at  CSFS.colostate.edu/grants or (970)879-0475. Applications are due in mid-October and awards will be announced in April.

Louisiana’s governor asks the impossible: Please don’t barbecue on Labor Day

One look at Louisiana’s traditional barbecue practice can set off alarm bells in the heads of firefighters.

The French Louisianan practice of Cochon de lait (co-shaun-du-lay) translates literally to “suckling pig” and involves pit roasting a young pig. Images of the practice show a long row of logs and hot coals blazing with high flames surrounded with split hogs hung on racks.

Cochon de laits were originally cooked over fireplaces in early-American kitchens, but the most common method today is in an outdoor cooking shed, grill or open fire pit,” according to the state’s official travel authority. “A fire that is constantly maintained should cook a 50-pound pig in about five or six hours, giving you plenty of time to kick back and relax with family and friends. It’s a good bet you’ll find it at a variety of fairs, festivals and tailgates around the state.”

The very open flame barbecue practice, along with the state’s affinity with smoked meats, shows why Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards may have felt it was necessary to explicitly ask the state’s residents to not barbecue for Labor Day weekend — and the beginning of the football season this year — as numerous wildfires burn across the state.

“We know [Labor Day] typically involves a lot of cookouts and barbecues, especially with the return of football,” Edwards said during a press conference on Aug. 30. “I’m asking that people not engage in barbecuing and so forth outside where a fire can start.”

The request itself isn’t out of the ordinary. Louisiana has been under a statewide burn ban since August because of extreme heat, widespread severe drought, and ongoing wildfires in the southwestern portion of the state. The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry also banned prescribed burns, and Edwards prohibited all agricultural burning with an executive order. However, what media found especially unusual about the governor’s request was that it coincided with the weekend that rings in the final days of summer barbecuing and the beginning of LSU football tailgating barbecuing.

“Let’s be patient and not create more work for firefighters in Louisiana,” Edwards said. “We need to prevent what is already a serious situation from becoming worse.”

The state’s residents may need to be very patient. This year’s burn ban has already far exceeded the length of the state’s previous statewide burn ban in 2015, which lasted only 10 days. On August 7 Louisiana Fire Marshal Daniel Wallis expanded the in-effect burn ban to include burning on both public and private property.

“This new burn ban order … prohibits ALL private burning, with no limitations,” the Office of Louisiana State Fire Marshal said. “The already extremely dry conditions statewide, and the concern over first responder safety in these dangerously high temperatures, have worsened as wildfires spread across Louisiana and significant rain relief remains elusive in weather forecasts.”

Time will tell whether Louisianans will obey the burn ban to stop further wildfire tragedies, or stick to tradition and risk igniting more fires.