My heart is in California this week as devastating wildfires strip the land of family homes, communities, farms, ranches, forests and the beautiful and abundant landscape of this important agricultural state.
My Facebook news feed has been filled with reports of people evacuating their homes. I want to extend my deepest condolences to those who have lost all in the flames, and I pray that everyone stays safe as firefighters work relentlessly to put out the flames and spare additional devastation.
While some are concluding these fires are the result of climate change, President Trump recently tweeted about the “gross mismanagement” of California forests.
He wrote, “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
He added, “With proper forest management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get smart!”
Not surprisingly, his tweet was met with anger and outcry as impacted Californians and dedicated first responders said the tweet was “ill-timed” and “ill-informed.”
"His comments are reckless and insulting to the firefighters and people being affected," said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, in an interview with CNN.
According to the CNN article, “The Camp Fire in Northern California has killed 23 people and burned 108,000 acres. The Woolsey Fire near Los Angeles has killed at least two and has scorched 83,275 acres. The Hill fire in Ventura County has ravaged 4,531 acres.”
Just as some are blaming climate change and others are blaming mismanagement of forests, I imagine the truth is somewhere in the middle with an ongoing five-year drought creating a very dry and brittle landscape.
By no means am I trying to sound condescending, and I hope it’s not in poor taste by saying it’s too soon to talk about solutions to these devastating wildfires. But I think as the flames continue to ravage the countryside, beef producers have an opportunity to talk about the benefits of cattle grazing on the landscape.
Forgive me for being so blunt, but we can either responsibly utilize the land’s natural resources or watch it burn as underbrush builds up and forests grow thick from lack of use.
My thoughts echo the position that the California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) has taken on this topic. Per the CCA 2017 Policy Resolutions, “The CCA requests that the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) petition Congress to:
1. Review all lands in wilderness area classification and wilderness study areas in California and that any land not meeting the wilderness classification be removed from designation as wilderness area and wilderness study areas.
2. Permit livestock grazing on all suitable wilderness land in California.
3. Prevent further designation of land into wilderness classification.
4. Release the 1.7 million acres presently designated for future planning in the 1984 California
5. Oppose further national monument designation that does not consider livestock grazing on lands suited for grazing.”
Additionally, the organization supports responsible, well-timed prescribed burns for improved range management.
According to the policy book, both CCA and NCBA, “support policies that encourage the United States Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Land Management, and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to increase burning activities on public lands, thus reducing wildfire potential, increasing public safety, increasing water yield, livestock and wildlife habitat and increasing vegetative diversity and that CCA encourage public agencies to include a plan for fuel load reduction in management plans.”
What’s more, increasing societal pressures to leave the land alone either through national monument designations or wildlife protection acts ignore the fact that people involved in the livestock and timber industries are critical for maintaining our grasslands and forests.
“1. Maximizing grazing opportunities on all public lands regardless of agency or ownership.
2. That further withdrawals of Federal multiple use lands be stopped so that the national resources of grazing, timber harvest, and mineral development may be utilized under sound management practices.
3. Supporting coordinated resource planning and participating as appropriate at the state and local levels.
4. The continued use of livestock grazing as a tool to manage rangeland vegetation and achieve a desired plant community on our public lands.
5. The University of California Cooperative Extension study and publication of the positive impacts of grazing.
6. Compensation to affected permittees for involuntary reductions in Animal Unit Months or season of use due to environmental restriction beyond the control of permittees.”
I realize responsible cattle grazing doesn’t fit into the narrative of blaming cow burps on climate change. However, as these fires threaten the homes of A-list celebrities in Malibu, Calabasas and Agoura, there is a huge national spotlight on this issue and an opportunity for livestock producers to engage in the conversation to explain how we can help fight future fires with proper management of the landscape.
Again, my thoughts and prayers are with the families, communities, farms, ranches, firefighters, law enforcement and volunteers who are dealing with the nightmare of these incredibly dangerous and life-altering fires.
I’m not saying we flood the airwaves with pro-cattle grazing propaganda, but I am pointing out that there is a window of opportunity to have these discussions. A visit with newspapers, elected officials and community members about how agriculture is part of the big picture could be beneficial to all.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.