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Goat Grazing is No Solution to Wildfires

The recent commentary by Mark Nelson in the San Francisco Chronicle, who works for the Ag industry, suggesting that grazing by goats and other livestock can help reduce wildfire losses in California deserves qualification.

As a landscape response to large fires, grazing is no solution. In many ecosystems, particularly in the parts of the state where sagebrush occurs, livestock grazing favors the growth and spread of flammable grasses like cheatgrass. Grazing in other parts of California where exotic grasses have taken over the landscape can favor the expansion of starthistle, another exotic that most animals find unpalatable. Not to mention, fuel reductions by grazing are short-lived since the plants rapidly grow back.

All of the wildfires that have done substantial damage to California homes occur during extreme fire weather events, which include drought, high temps, low humidity, and, most importantly, high winds.

Under such wind-driven events, wildfires rip through all fuel reductions, including prescribed burning, thinning, and grazed sites. We have numerous examples where such “solutions” have failed in California.

Research has shown a reduction of fuels in the immediate area around a structure (typically less than 100 feet), and the flammability of the structure itself is the only practical solution.

Goat grazing might help in such limited areas, but as a response to large wildfires, livestock grazing is a misguided strategy.

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

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