USA–– Editor’s note: The following article was written by Kate Campbell, an assistant editor of Ag Alert. Ag Alert is the news source for the California Farm Bureau Federation and can be found here.
While the catastrophic wildfires that ravaged northeastern California in August have been extinguished with the season’s first rain and snow, economic and environmental damage will continue for years for families who ranch, log and live in the state’s mountain counties.
And ranchers say an increased number of wildfires, coupled with the rest periods for grassland required by federal agencies, mean the cumulative effect of wildfires takes ever greater amounts of grazing land out of productionlimiting feed options and the ability for ranchers to produce food economically.
For example, the 100,000-acre Barry Point Fire swept down from Oregon and burned into timber and public grazing land on the California border in Modoc County. Cattle rancher Bill Wilson of Alturas said the fire scorched grass on his U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment that would have provided at least a month’s grazing for about 300 pairs of cows and calves.
“About 85 percent of our permit area burned,” said Wilson, who was forced to move his cattle to his home ranch early, potentially depleting grasses much earlier than expected. “We don’t think mandatory removal of cattle from the permit area over the next few years is necessary for the land to heal.”
Federal policies differ on how long grazing should be banned on land affected by wildfire, saying it depends on the heat of the fire, the topography of burn areas and environmental considerations.
The Rush Fire along the California-Nevada state line started in mid-August with a lightning strike and burned for nearly two weeks on Bureau of Land Management land. The fast-moving fire burned more than 315,000 acres and wiped out grasses on allotments held by the Espil family.
As the fire swept in, Brent Espil said family and friends responded to the emergency by helping to move livestockherding sheep on foot and cattle on horseback. The family maintains three grazing allotments on the edge of the Great Basin.
“I’ve already sold cattle, because we’re not sure how much it will cost us to feed them in the future,” Espil said. “We’re hoping to find other grazing land for the spring, whether it’s on public or private land. I’m trying to go forward as normal, working the cattle, preparing for calving.
“But, I’d hate to see anyone in the position we’re in,” he said. “What am I going to do?”