FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The BLM’s “Targeted Grazing” Ruse

Recently Nevada Bureau of Land Management (BLM) State  Director Jon Raby suggested that the agency will try “targeted grazing” among other methods to reduce wildfires in the sagebrush ecosystem. Raby says the BLM is implementing this action “because of the threat of annual invasive grasses, specifically cheatgrass, play in altering fire regime conditions that intensify wildland fire frequency, duration, and size.”

The BLM’s response to cheatgrass has an analogy in the Hans Christian Anderson story about the Emperor new clothes. Only a small child is willing to say the obvious—the Emperor is naked.

We have a similar situation with regards to cheatgrass spread and livestock grazing. No one in the BLM is willing to admit the obvious– that livestock grazing is largely responsible for the spread of cheatgrass.

The reason the BLM is closed mouth about the relationship between cheatgrass spread and livestock is political, not due a lack of scientific information.

Throughout the arid West, biological soil crusts (BSC) consisting of moss, algae, lichens, and cyanobacteria cover the soil between native bunchgrasses. These crusts are very fragile and easily broken up by trampling from livestock hooves. As livestock destroy soil crusts, cheatgrass seeds can establish on the bare soil.

A second way that livestock promotes cheatgrass is by selectively grazing native bunchgrasses. Native bunchgrasses in the Great Basin evolved without large herds of grazing animals like bison.  Therefore, they have few adaptations for resisting grazing pressure and are slow to recover from grazing.  By selectively and preferentially grazing the native grasses, livestock gives cheatgrass a competitive advantage.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology looked at 75 Great Basin sites invaded by cheatgrass found that greater grazing intensity promoted the alien’s spread. As the researchers concluded: “Evidence suggests abundant bunchgrasses limit invasions by limiting the size and connectivity of gaps between vegetation, and BSCs (biological soil crusts) appear to limit invasions within gaps.”

The study goes on to conclude: “Results also suggest that cattle grazing reduces invasion resistance by decreasing bunchgrass abundance, shifting bunchgrass composition, and thereby increasing connectivity of gaps between perennial plants while trampling further reduces resistance by reducing BSC.”

However, you won’t hear anything about this and other studies from the BLM. Just as the EPA is not allowed to mention climate change, the BLM is not permitted to say anything that could be conceived as negative about ranching.

Another ruse used by the BLM is “targeted grazing” is the idea that eliminating grasses, can reduce the spread of wildfires.

Again, the BLM’s Emperor has no clothes. What is never mentioned is that climate/weather conditions primarily drive large wildfires. Extreme fire weather with low humidity, high temperatures, extended drought, and most importantly, high winds are the primary driver of large blazes. Under such conditions, windblown embers easily cross any “fuel break” created by targeted grazing.

In a widely cited paper,  Targeted Grazing in Southern Arizona: Using Cattle to Reduce Fine Fuel Loads, the researchers noted in the next to last paragraph: Although it (targeted grazing)  is a promising tool for altering fire behavior, targeted grazing will be most effective in grass communities under moderate weather conditions.” In other words, livestock grazing doesn’t work under extreme fire weather conditions.

Why is this important? Because all the large fires that we seek to control or suppress only occur under extreme fire weather conditions. In other words, the very fires that all this manipulation, livestock grazing, and so forth are supposed to control are ineffective under extreme fire weather conditions.

This conclusion was recently reiterated in a recent paper on fuel breaks with the title: “The ecological uncertainty of wildfire fuel breaks: examples from the sagebrush steppe.” In that paper, the authors warn that fuel breaks are of unproven effectiveness in the face of extreme fire weather.

The BLM is hamstrung by livestock interests when it comes to protecting our natural resources. The Emperor has no clothes, but you won’t hear it from the agency.

More articles by:

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
January 17, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: No Woman, No Cry
Kathleen Wallace
Hijacking the Struggles of Others, Elizabeth Warren Style
Robert Hunziker
The Rumbling Methane Enigma
Frank Joyce
Will the Constitution Fail Again?
Andrew Levine
Biden Daze
Pete Dolack
Claims that the ‘NAFTA 2’ Agreement is Better are a Macabre Joke
Vijay Prashad
Not an Inch: Indian Students Stand Against the Far Right
Ramzy Baroud
Sealed Off and Forgotten: What You Should Know about Israel’s ‘Firing Zones’ in the West Bank
Norman Solomon
Not Bernie, Us. Not Warren, Us. Their Clash Underscores the Need for Grassroots Wisdom
Ted Rall
America’s Long History of Meddling in Russia
David Rosen
The Irregulators vs. FCC: the Trial Begins
Jennifer Matsui
The Krown
Joseph Natoli
Resolutions and Obstacles/2020
Sarah Anderson
War Profiteering is Real
James McFadden
The Business Party Syndicate
Ajamu Baraka
Trump Prosecutors Make Move to Ensure that Embassy Protectors are Convicted
David Swanson
CNN is Trash
Rev. William Alberts
Finally a Christian Call for Trump’s Removal
Dave Lindorff
The ERA Just Got Ratified by Virginia, the Needed 38th State!
W. T. Whitney
Mexico Takes Action on Coup in Bolivia and on CELAC
Steve Early
How General Strike Rhetoric Became a Reality in Seattle 
Jessicah Pierre
Learning From King’s Last Campaign
Mark Dickman
Saint Greta and the Dragon
Jared Bernstein - Dean Baker
Reducing the Health Care Tax
Clark T. Scott
Uniting “Progressives” Instead of Democrats
Nilofar Suhrawardy
Trump & Johnson: What a Contrast, Image-wise!
Ron Jacobs
Abusing America’s Children—Free Market Policy
George Wuerthner
Mills Are Being Closed by National Economic Trends, Not Environmental Regulations
Basav Sen
Nearly All Americans Want Off of Fossil Fuels
Mark Ashwill
Playing Geopolitical Whack-a-Mole: The Viet Nam Flag Issue Revisited
Jesse Jackson
New Hope for One of America’s Poorest Communities
Binoy Kampmark
Harry and Meghan Exit: The Royal Family Propaganda Machine
Ralph Nader
Trump: Making America Dread Again!
Rob Okun
A Call to Men to join Women’s March
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
We All Need to Be Tree Huggers Now
Tom Stephens
The New York Times’ Delusions of Empire
Jill Richardson
Why Do We Have School Lunch Debt at All?
Julian Rose
Fake-Green Zero Carbon Fraud
Louis Proyect
The Best Films of 2019
Graham Peebles
Education: Expanding Purpose
Matthew Stevenson
Across the Balkans: Into Kosovo
Colin Todhunter
Gone Fishing? No Fish but Plenty of Pesticides and a Public Health Crisis
Julian Vigo
Can New Tech Replace In-Class Learning?
Wim Laven
Message to Trump Supporters: Sorry
Gaither Stewart
The Bench: the Life of Things
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail