Log it, graze it or watch it burn

As wildfires consume the western United States, it's time to remind the public of the critical role that cattle play in reducing fuel for the flames.

Amanda Radke

September 14, 2020

5 Min Read
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In the western United States, more than 30 active fires have scorched 900,000 acres in recent weeks. As the blazes rage on, our brave firefighters are working to save cities, homes, businesses, animals, farms, ranches and our food supply.

Now, I realize that the headline of today’s blog could be too hot (pun intended) and too political to handle. I’ll probably trigger some folks with this post.

If you’re not familiar, the popular phrase, “log it, graze it or watch it burn,” is a direct note to environmental extremists who believe ruminant animals shouldn’t graze pastures and timber shouldn’t be removed from forests. The “do not touch” approach is a favorite of many, but what are the repercussions of this fanciful idea of land management?

Without responsible management, renewable resources like grasslands and forests lay dead and dormant. Dry brush and dead trees are the perfect kindling for a hot blaze. It’s terribly tragic that popular rhetoric has put so many people and animals in a vulnerable and dangerous situation.

As we watch this terrible devastation and pray for our loved ones in the line of these fires, we are also seeing a lot of contradictory reports on the causes of these wildfires. From arson, to gender reveal parties gone wrong, to lightning strikes, to the government using the fires as a ploy to get emergency federal funding, there are countless conspiracies floating around about why the blaze is so hot. I’ll let you research those ideas for yourself. That’s not my aim of today’s post.

Related:On Amazon wildfires, cattle production, climate change & consumer fears

Although science shouldn’t be political, there seems to be a red verses blue division on how to address the wildfires in the western states. From my perspective, it’s all a bit more nuanced than what anybody is reporting.

On one side of the coin, many believe that these wildfires are a sign of climate change. In fact, some of the mainstream media reporters have started calling the wildfires “climate fires” in their articles.

Former President Barack Obama tweeted last week, “The fires across the West Coast are just the latest examples of the very real ways our changing climate is changing our communities. Protecting our planet is on the ballot. Vote like your life depends on it — because it does.”

On Monday, Sept. 14, Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden spoke on climate change, criticizing President Donald Trump’s attempt to curtail the flames.

In his speech, Biden said, “If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze? If you give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is underwater?

Related:Livestock & timber industries important to curtail wildfires

“You know what is actually threatening our suburbs? Wildfires are burning our suburbs in the West. If we have four more years of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned in wildfires?”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump met with California Governor Newsom in a roundtable to discuss the best ways to tamper the fires.

Landing in Sacramento, President Trump spoke to reporters before the roundtable session. Speaking outside of Air Force One, he said, “When trees fall down after a short period of time — about 18 months — they become very dry. They become really like a matchstick. They just explode. They can explode. Also leaves. When you have years of leaves, dried leaves on the ground, it just sets it up. It’s really a fuel for a fire.

“So they have to do something about it. There has to be good, strong forest management, which I’ve been talking about for three years with the states, so hopefully they’ll start doing that.”

No matter what side of the discussion you land on, or which presidential candidate you side with on this issue, I think those of us in the cattle business prefer to look at problems from a boots-on-the-ground approach, using common sense to tackle problems instead of political pandering and smooth talking points.

So how can agriculturalists play a critical role in these conversations about land management and wildfires?

My friend and fellow rancher from Idaho, Jessie Jarvis, shared an important message on Instagram recently. She said, “Fire is a cycle. And these are the three areas of a fire cycle — oxygen, heat and fuel. What to know which of these three areas man has the most control of? The answer is fuel.

“The primary fuel type in these types of fires is grass, brush and trees. That’s why land management is so incredibly important. Without adequate land management, we are unable to control the fuel load.

“What are the most effective and efficient ways to manage the land and reduce fuel loads? Grazing forage, logging trees and implementing prescribed burns in certain areas. It is our duty to management lands responsibly.”

And that’s where ranchers and loggers come in. Removing the fuel (dead brush and trees) encourages green new growth that reduces the spread of wildfires.

There are some interesting articles circulating right now that offer up various perspectives on this issue. I’ll link them below.

Most importantly, I think now is a great time to discuss the critical role that ruminant animals play in proper land management. Remember, no matter what side of the fence you are on with this issue politically, I think we can all agree that ruminant animals are absolutely, without question, a beneficial addition to maintaining a healthy landscape.

Now is the time to counteract the false narrative because the unfortunate reality seems to be that for many years, strict government regulations have been seeking to remove cattle from our lands. What a shame. My prayers are with those impacted by these wildfires. Stay safe and healthy amidst the smoke and fire.

"New study: Cattle grazing significantly reduces wildfire spread” by Sierra Dawn McClain for Capital Press

“Cattle might be secret weapon in fight against wildfires, experts say. Here’s how.” featured on The Sacramento Bee

“Don’t blame climate change for raging wildfires, blame bad management” by Krystina Skurk for The Federalist

“Huge fires impact ranchers” by Steve Stuebner, Life on the Range

"All volunteer 'redneck crew' credited with saving neighborhood" by Tyler Francke for Canby News

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

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