Catastrophic wildfires have ravaged the western United States this summer. Over a billion dollars have been spent to date fighting out of control wildfires and the fire season isn’t even close to being over. Many are questioning the management of these valuable natural resources that gone up in flames. So who really is to blame for the severity of wildfires? And, what is agriculture's role in helping tame their spread? To answer those questions, Northern Ag Network’s Lane Nordlund spoke with Dr. Clayton Marlow, a Range Ecology professor who teaches a Fire Ecology and Management class at Montana State University.
Dr. Marlow: I think, first and foremost, what has been missed is taking all the science that the Forest Service itself and its sister agencies through the Joint Fire Science program have developed and it has not gone to policy. For example, there is study after study that shows that prescribed grazing or targeted logging practices greatly reduce the spread and the severity of fires. I want to really repeat that the prescribed grazing and logging will reduce the severity and spread, it won’t prevent the fire, but it will make less catastrophic and easier to control.
Many are making claims that much of the blame falls directly on the federal agencies, claiming gross negligence and mismanagement of our nation’s forests and rangeland by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management particularly this year as it deals with an unprecedented fire season as seen across the western U.S. this year. Dr. Marlow shares his thoughts on what the problem actually is.
Dr. Marlow: Yes and no, I think that's a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. I think that most federal agencies are very aware that there is unhealthy forests, and grasslands that are prone to catastrophic fires. The problem is we have a group of environment organizations that have learned to make money by suing the federal government. And they have so tied the hands of the federal government with lawsuits, that the agencies can’t 1. Get to the project on the ground and 2, Don't have the resources to put it there because they are paying court costs. So rather than blaming federal agency, I think its a segment of our society that is to blame. Its important to note, that most of the plant communities in this part of the world, evolved from grazing and fire and when we remove both we make them very unhealthy and very vulnerable to climate change.
Northern Ag Network Note: A great follow-up to this interview is a presentation Dr. Marlow gave at the 2008 annual meeting of the Prairie County Grazing District where he discussed using livestock grazing as a positive force and using it as a tool to preventing and reducing wildfires.
Part 1: Discussion of the current perceptions of livestock grazing on public lands, and lead-in to how to address those concerns.
Part 2: Preventing wildfires through using livestock as tools.
Part 3: How to use cattle as tools to reduce wildfires.
Part 4: Animal species recovery through livestock grazing.
© Northern Ag Network 2015