Range Fires: Prevent Them From Spreading on Your Property
When you live and work in the West, wildfires are always a concern in the summer months and you know that a lighting storm without any rain with it is usually the primary cause of them. However, in the last week, at least two fires were started by malfunctioning transformers on electrical lines near me. Whatever the cause, range fires cause a lot of concern. If we could only make them burn what we want them to burn they could be a wonderful tool; however, once they get started and mother nature gets involved, there are no guarantees. A wind will move a fire quickly and once that fire gets going with a lot of material to burn, it creates it’s own wind and spreads faster. One fact that is obvious to those who live and work on our rangelands is that grazed rangelands don’t burn like ungrazed areas. Many times I’ve seen a fire get started without much wind and when it comes up to a cow trail, created by the cattle traveling to water on a regular basis, it burns out.
On July 7, a fire started North of Wells near a private field I lease for grazing. It is about 6,000 acres and the most northerly field is approximately 700 acres of crested wheat grass. We run around 150 to 200 head in the field for the months of April and May and, then, head to the bigger field which is higher elevation for the rest of the summer. Usually the grass comes back over the summer/fall and it looks like we hardly graze it. When the fire caught, we’d been out of the field for about six weeks. It started at an electrical transformer along Hwy 93 about a mile from the North field. The rangelands between hadn’t been grazed yet. Then, when the fire reached our fence, it stopped except where there were a few stringers of high grass still remaining.
The video above shows how grazing can stop range fires before they have a chance to get out of control. The Winecup Ranch is our neighbor and the manager was on the fire trying to help get it stopped before it got out of control and burned their headquarters up. I mentioned to him that I believe the last 80,000-acre fire we had in the area in 2002 could have been stopped the first night if the Bureau of Land Management didn’t have a fire policy to not fight fire at night. He informed me they still had the same policy and a fire on the North end of the ranch which had burned over 30,000 acres already.
Unfortunately, if you want to put range fires out in our country that don’t have many trees involved, you have to make sure you’re on top of it at night when the winds calm down and the air moisture content goes up. Before the government took control of fires, when someone saw a lightning strike everyone would shut down what they were doing and load up a bulldozer with water barrels with gunny sacks to soak and strike the fire with, shovels, and whatever else you have and started fighting the fire while it was still small. At the same time, we were running nearly twice as many cattle on the public lands.
Since then, we now have the Federal Land Management and Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and a lot of other government regulations that keep landowners from dropping a blade to make a fire line or having grazed the land to make it less vulnerable to out of control range fires. The range fires can help improve grass lands but since most of our rangelands are public lands now, they want to grow sagebrush for sage grouse. Once burned, the agencies keep you from grazing them for at least two years and may even come back and seed sagebrush into them. We still have plenty of sage brush for the sage grouse and they actually like to get on the burned areas for fresh forbs and new grass especially in the spring season. In the meantime, ravens keep eating the sage grouse eggs out of their nests which unfortunately adds fuel to those blaming cattle and sheep for their species’ decline even though its really the ravens causing it. Grazing keeps range fires under control and anti-grazing policies harm more species then they help. I encourage everyone in the land industry to support funding for local fire prevention and for efforts to put fires out as soon as they start and to start advocating on the importance of being able to take action on fighting range fires at night even where trees are not a factor.
About the author: Paul Bottari, ALC, is Owner/Broker for Bottari & Associates Realty Inc. in Wells, NV. Paul serves on the REALTORS® Land Institute 2017 Government Affairs Committee.