Extension research finds dormant-season grazing might keep wildfire at bay

In the foreground, people are looking at the ground in a grassy landscape. A butte is in the background.

Since 2010, nearly 2.5 million acres have burned in wildfires in and around Malheur County in eastern Oregon, devastating the natural and working landscapes and negatively impacting agricultural resilience and competitiveness.

In response, Sergio Arispe, Oregon State University Extension livestock and range field faculty specialist and associate professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences, generated data on federally managed land within Malheur County that showed cattle grazing on invasive annual grasses during the dormant season might be an effective tool for mitigating the damage of wildfire. It could also help rangelands recuperate.

Arispe is coordinating Extension and research to quantify fine fuels reduction in collaboration with the Vale District of the Bureau of Land Management, natural resource agencies, private cow-calf operators and the public. In particular, he is collecting and sharing data relevant to public land management with agencies, so personnel are able to identify changes in vegetation due to alternative livestock grazing treatments. The landscape-scale focus has broad support from all corners.

As a result, 2,500 tons of fine fuels have been removed during off-season grazing, removing biomass that would otherwise burn in a rangeland wildfire in the 23,000 acres of public lands in Malheur County.