Once again, the West is burning. Once again, forestry experts tell us that taking the cows and sheep out of the forest has made the summer fire season unbelievably worse. Our public lands are nice and green in the winter and the grasses grow tall – but they dry out and become fuel for the summer and fall. No wonder the land burns.
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that grazing animals eat up that fuel, but they’ve been kicked out of public lands. With proper range management maybe we wouldn’t have seen those thousand homes burn in Redding, or watch a firestorm kill 85 people and consume the town of Paradise. That fire has been called the costliest natural disaster in history, burning 19,000 structures, including 11,000 homes. And this year, we did not need to see California’s first State Park burn down. A place of such unimaginable beauty, heavily forested with the tallest trees in the world, set aside to be enjoyed by all for the generations, deserved much better care than it got.
It’s ironic that the blame for these fires rest squarely on the shoulders of the environmental movement. The Sierra Club and their followers have a lot of political clout, and their influence has led to this state of affairs. The land is no longer leased out to cattle and sheep ranchers because they say they don’t belong. But tell me, Sierra Club, is it really better to burn it down? Do we really want to keep those thousands of firefighters on fire lines, or to have thousands of Californians exposed to hazardous levels of smoke?
The University of California recently began a new study to show whether cattle and sheep keeping the weeds down really has an impact on wildfires. The results are absolutely predictable. It’s already been proven, time and again, that less fuel means less fire. The UC proved it once before with a study done at the Hopland Research Center. Well, they get to prove it again. Let’s hope our policy makers read and heed what that study will say.
About the Author
Len Wilcox is a retired scientist who also ran a newspaper and has written for agricultural publications since the 1980s. He was a regular contributor to California Farmer Magazine. His commentary “The Western View” is a regular feature on Farm City Newsday and AgNet West.