This article was contributed by Devii Rao, livestock and natural resources advisor for the UC Cooperative Extension.
To date, more than 4 million acres have burned in California due to wildfire. This includes 48,000 acres from the River Fire in Monterey County and more than 86,000 from the CZU August Lightning Complex Fires in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties. These kinds of wildfires can cause injuries and even fatalities in people, livestock, and pets. They can destroy homes and businesses and burn many acres of grassland, shrubland, and forest which provide habitat and forage for livestock and wildlife. As we see more destructive wildfires in California, people are looking for ways to protect themselves.
University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Benito County and the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County (RCDMC) recently received a grant from Cal Fire to promote the use of prescribed fire in San Benito, Monterey, and Santa Cruz counties. Prescribed fire can reduce the risk of wildfire by decreasing the amount of flammable vegetation on the landscape. Prescribed burns release less greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide and particulate matter per acre than an equivalent sized wildfire. There is also less smoke as a result of prescribed burns compared to wildfires because less vegetation is burned per acre.
The primary goal of the Cal Fire grant is to reduce the risk of wildfires in the tri-county area through establishment of a Prescribed Burn Association (PBA). The PBA will be a landowner-led organization and will use other successful prescribed burning groups in California as models in its development. Association members pool their knowledge, people power and equipment to help other people in the association conduct prescribed burns. Through the grant, UCCE and RCDMC will recruit local landowners and land managers, purchase prescribed fire tools and equipment for PBA members to use for burning, educate local residents about techniques and methods used for prescribed burning, including on-the-ground live-fire trainings, and conduct outreach and education for the general public about prescribed fire, the PBA, home hardening, and how to maintain defensible space around their homes.
Another tool that landowners in rural areas and those living in the wildland-urban interface can use to protect their properties is livestock grazing. Cattle, sheep, and goats consume vegetation, which in fire terms, is fuel. UCCE has been conducting research on how much forage/fuels cattle consume across California, and how cattle grazing influences fire safety in the state. Preliminary results are presented here. This research was supported by a grant from the California Cattle Council. Phase 2 of this project was initiated at the beginning of October and will investigate influence of cattle grazing on particulate matter and greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires.
Please contact Devii Rao at [email protected]nr.edu or (831) 205-3125 if you are interested in learning more about the prescribed burn association or livestock grazing for fire safety.