The Force of the Horse

Targeted Grazing Scam

By as published on The Wildlife News

The Idaho BLM is implementing what is sometimes called “targeted grazing” with livestock in an effort to reduce large wildfires. The theory is that if livestock graze enough of the “fuel”, then large wildfires like the 600,000 Murphy Complex or the Soda Fire which burned across southern Idaho in recent years could be more easily controlled.

On the surface, this strategy seems plausible. Less fuel should mean fewer large fires. But here’s the rest of the story.

First, nearly all the acreage burned annually is the result of a very few large fire complexes. For instance, in the years 1980-2003 there were 56,320 fires in the Rocky Mountain states. Of those fires, 96% of the blazes were responsible for charring only 4% of the total acreage burned. By contrast, 0.1% of the fires—less than 50—were responsible for over half the acreage burned during that time.

Therefore, the fires that are the biggest threat to both human communities and the ones fuel treatments like targeted grazing seek to control are those very infrequent but large blazes.

However, large blazes occur during what are categorized as “extreme fire weather” conditions. These conditions include serious drought, low humidity, high temperatures and most importantly high winds.

The reason winds are key to fire spread is because they “fan” the flames, and toss embers 1-4 miles ahead of the fire front, making any attempt at containment impossible. A narrow strip of targeted heavily grazed rangelands is not going to stop a wind-driven blaze since burning embers will easily be blown over any fuel reduction.

Numerous studies of large fires have acknowledged this, including A University of Idaho study, following the 2007 Murphy Complex fire, that burned more than 600,000 acres, which found “much of the Murphy Wildland Fire Complex burned under extreme fuel and weather conditions that likely overshadowed livestock grazing as a factor influencing fire extent and fuel consumption in many areas where these fires burned,”

Another widely cited study done in Arizona heralding the benefits of “targeted grazing” on wildfire reduction, concluded that while fuel removal by livestock might reduce fire spread under low and moderate fire weather conditions the situations where it might be beneficial were limited to small areas, and under less than extreme fire weather.

The authors concluded “Targeted grazing treatment did influence fire behavior in grass/shrub communities, but its effects were limited. Although it is a promising tool for altering fire behavior, targeted grazing will be most effective in grass communities under moderate weather conditions.”

In other words, targeted grazing is limited in affecting fire behavior and outcome under the extreme fire conditions agencies like the BLM seek to control.

To have any effect on fuels, the areas targeted for grazing need to be scalped down to stubble. This removes the hiding cover for wildlife, results in soil compaction, serious impacts on native grasses due to “overgrazing” and destruction of soil crusts.

Loss of soil crusts is important because this facilitates the establishment of cheatgrass, a highly flammable annual. So, in effect, target grazing often creates a more flammable zone of cheatgrass.

Another issue is the very low probability that a fire will encounter any fuel break. Because the conditions under which a blaze is transformed into a large, unstoppable wildfire are so rare, most fuel breaks never encounter a fire, making their implementation a waste of time and money.

Target grazing is like “investing” in the lottery. Yes, you can always point to someone who is a winner, but most people buying lottery tickets are just throwing away their money. It’s the same with “fuel treatments” like targeted grazing.

8 replies »


    Liked by 1 person

    • I reread my comment. The typing errors, I do Not drink At all, however, I am starting to think my cell phone does!


  2. Not to mention the cattle are roasted when the fires come and there’s no time to move them out of harm’s way. Those that don’t die of smoke inhalation are burned and blinded, footsore, and then shot to end their misery, but not those of their owners, who face financial catastrophe. Placing more cattle in more remote areas likely to be fire-prone is a tested recipe for roast beef, writ large, as over and over GRAZED rangelands are burning. It is obviously “fake news” to suggest that most of the west is not under some form of grazing — see a good map of federal grazing permits active in 2008 here: A great many of the fires and losses are happening on grazing permit areas.

    I also wonder about the buzz words “targeted” or “outcome based” grazing, since by law that is what was supposed to be happening all these decades on public lands, overseen, monitored and adjusted by the BLM or USFS. If it hasn’t, and we have nothing but crisis management underway, why aren’t heads rolling?

    And see the National Geo link below, indicating in 2014 reimbursement for animal losses cost taxpayers over $21 million… at a time the warehouseing of wild horses and burros were also costing us over $50 million if I remember correctly.

    Definition of insanity: doing (or paying for) the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.

    Wildfire, barbed wire, and wildlife are a deadly combination, too:

    “In August of 2014, the Carlton Complex fires — the largest recorded wildfire in Washington state history — nearly 100,000 acres of winter range deer habitat was lost. This area is critical to the local deer and the 10,000 mule deer that migrate from the Cascades. Without enough cover or food to survive the winter months, and without anywhere to migrate, the deer are likely to perish during the hard winter weather. To prevent massive dieoffs, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Department was forced to take steps to reduce the size of the herd. One such measure was the increase in antlerless deer permits during that hunting season.”

    “In Oregon’s Canyon Creek Complex alone, 125 of the 170 square miles burned were grazing allotments, said Malheur National Forest rangeland management specialist Nick Stiner. Some 4,000 cows ranged on those allotments, he said.

    And in the Soda Fire in southwest Idaho, that state’s biggest fire this year, 280 of the 430 square miles burned were federal grazing allotments and another 75 square miles were private grazing lands, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

    In addition to rangeland lost, ranchers and ranching groups say hundreds of cows have perished and millions of dollars’ worth of hay stacks and barns has gone up in flames.”

    “In Washington state, last year’s Carlton Complex fire killed 1,000 cattle. This year’s Okanagan Complex fire is located in a more developed agricultural community. The ranch community has banded together to help each other out, but the death toll will likely be even greater.

    Fires threaten the already delicate economic balance ranchers face. Many would rather lose their homes than their cattle. Animal husbandry—the science of developing certain traits in a domestic animal—takes generations to refine. A house or barn can be rebuilt in a summer.

    Livestock deaths from wildfire have not reached the point of impacting consumers. The 2014 Farm Bill provides funding for the Livestock Indemnity Disaster Program, reimbursing ranchers and farmers for up to 75 percent the value of animals killed by natural disaster. In 2014, the program cost taxpayers $21.7 million.”

    “The fires were so hot in places they burned swaths of timber to black char and ash, sterilizing the soil. And they are so big, it took Desautel more than two hours recently to fly the North Star fire’s perimeter in a helicopter, he said.

    Typically a big fire for the tribe is 20,000 acres, or about 31 square miles. But the Tunk Block and North Star fires together cover more than 590 square miles, an area four times the size of the city of Seattle. … Preliminary estimates indicate the tribe has already lost about 131,000 acres of its 660,000 total acres managed for timber production. Damages are still being assessed; potential losses could be as much as 1 billion board feet burned up in all…

    Also affected are upward of 1,000 cattle displaced or killed by the fire, and about 20 percent of the rangeland the tribe rents to ranchers on and off the reservation.

    That means ranchers will have to find new pasture for their animals, or cull their herds at a loss. It will be at least three years before the burned pasture on reservation land will be grazed again, Desautel said.”


    • Not surprising that in regard to domestic livestock losses – the owners must be compensated BUT when the loss of grazing land impacts WILD animals – we must kill them to “save” them. Somehow, humans as the great saviors or “dominant” species, only have one bottom line if wild animals lose their habitats – NOT making the effort to prevent the loss, “just” kill off the “unwanted” animals. We’ve all heard about the huge numbers of unwanted animals. Unwanted by who? (or whom)


  3. this is all bunk. catle and horses eat pretty much the same green veeatation. . every time i read about BLM’s grand plans . its alway’s to elemiate the mustangs. they have run wild and free for many years . now why are they suddenly the problum. nature takes care of it’s own . if they {BLM] would quit lining their own pockets for profit from the cattle ranchers and leave the horses alone . there is other things that need their undivided attention . like crime reduction,s . drug control they would have enought to be busy for year’s .

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