Through ongoing efforts to keep communities as safe from wildfires as possible, the province is using agriculture as another resource to manage fine fuels in parts of British Columbia.
The approach is livestock grazing – a low carbon, cost-effective method that supports local food production and provides new opportunities for ranchers.
“We’ve been working on ways to utilize targetted grazing to start protecting some of the infrastructures in areas where we have the opportunity to do so,” said Kevin Boon, general manager of the BC Cattlemen’s Association. “The last two fire seasons have seen unprecedented resources burn in the province. These events have shown us the value of agriculture, specifically cattle grazing, in mitigating the start or spread of fires while assisting in firefighting efforts. Cattle grazing reduces the fine fuels available for fires to take hold.”
The B.C. government is providing $500,000 to the BC Cattlemen’s Association to develop partnerships around the province – working with local governments, the ranching sector and Indigenous communities to develop partnerships and provide opportunities for livestock owners, stakeholders and other interested parties.
The funding will allow the association to develop said partnerships in areas to protect the land, forests and communities while still producing some of the best quality food in the country.
“We are going to create very specific areas to concentrate on that are considered as high-risk areas to utilize the cattle to do this,” said Boon. “This is part of what we will be identifying very quickly.”
According to Boon, the association will be meeting with a wildfire management group to identify those areas throughout the province.
“I can’t give one specific area, but there is many and this is why we will be forming these partnerships,” said Boon.
For the South Cariboo, there is still a lot of landscape that can be affected by fires, which can be considered for this approach in mitigating some of those fuels.
“We have the funding, which some has to be utilized before the next fiscal year and some can be used for the following,” said Boon. “We are hoping to put as much of this into effect as we can this year. Once we get this setup and get the system in place, we will be able to use this every year. This is not a one-year thing, but a matter of making it work in those areas needed. If we see a benefit to it, I can see this expanding in years to come.”
Targetted grazing won’t be the solution to all fuel management challenges, but it is an effective tool when used in combination with other methods, such as prescribed burning and selective tree harvesting. Wildfire prevention programs in Europe and parts of the U.S. are successfully using livestock to graze fuel breaks around communities and reduce the risks of wildfires.
“I am confident that we will see the benefits of this.”