Friday, February 4, 2011

Breaking the Cycle of Fire on the Range

Wally Butler is one of the foremost authorities on Range issues in the Intermountain West, he currently serves as Second Vice President of the Society of Range Management. He holds a masters degree in Range Management from the University of Idaho and is the Range and Livestock Specialist at the Idaho Farm Bureau. He attended the symposium: How Collaborative Resource Management Can Break the Current Fire Cycle, here’s his take on the conference:

There’s a lot of talk at this conference about where invasive species are heading, were any of the questions answered?

Well, this has been a very good conference. It started with the same question you are asking; where are invasive species heading? Obviously, that’s anyone’s guess. Part of it depends on what environmental conditions do, climate change, what happens as far as litigation, grazing and regulatory oversight. The big distinction that needs to be made here is that we’re not talking about grazing for the sake of grazing but for the sake of controlling wildfire and those are two different issues.

And lots of rules?

There are rules and regulations that govern how ranchers graze for the sake of grazing but there’re also management rules and regulations on how to work a fire scenario; grazing is one of those tools. Again, It’s a hard thing to get out of people’s mind is that we are not just talking about grazing for the same of grazing. We’re talking the environmental issues that go along with wildfire.

No surprise, but climate change did come up. The west is moving into a wetter cycle and with that we are seeing changes in the characteristics of cheat grass—

I’m not a proponent of climate change for the sake of saying that we have climate change; we’ve had that throughout all history. But the change in the precipitation cycle you are talking about. The most obvious change is the amount of precipitation and the time of year that the rains come. When you look at those cycles, that do change how a plant reacts, how a species adapts, different species adapt at different elevations, different soil types, different plant communities relationships, that kind of thing, so it’s a very complex thing to forecast. I don’t have much doubt in my mind that we will have changes in precipitation patterns, which to me is a bigger issue.

We will see larger fire fuel loads on the range with this wetter cycle?

It can go either way and vary from place to place. That’s why management of lands is so sight specific, there are some generalities but overall it has to be sight specific because of the change in weather pattern and precipitation pattern, it may be dryer and higher but may get wetter in certain locations, so you have two opposing reactions, so generalities are fine but it’s got to come down to site specific oversight.

It’s an unfair fight on the range with cheat grass having a distinct advantage?

How can we hope to break the fire cycle that so favorable to the invasive species; specifically cheat grass and to a lesser degree medusa head. That’s where we are now, what have we learned what are the tools and what actions do we take.

So it looks like there will be long term research?

Right now it’s aimed toward Black’s Creek, east to Mountain Home and up to the base of the Danskin mountains. The types of things they are talking about are firebreaks, forage kochia and some of those fire breaks, target grazing; not to be confused with livestock production; all the things designed to try and break the cycle.

These fire starts; they’re not all lightning strikes?

Another thing that’s a huge issue is the fact that 66 percent of fire strikes in that area is human caused, that’s why it’s good to have good fire buffers in the area.

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