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Study shows the benefits of grazing rangeland before a fire

Loretta Sorenson
Photo by Loretta SorensonRangelands need some grazing pressure to reduce fuel loads so that when fire occurs, there's less fuel and a lesser degree of damage to the plant community, land and wildlife.
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A 14-year study completed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has demonstrated that properly grazing rangeland before a fire maintains the quality of the burned area and helps keep invading plant species from taking over.

ARS Rangeland Scientist Kirk Davies says the long-held perception that plant life in the Intermountain West can’t tolerate some grazing pressure is incorrect.

“These rangelands actually need some grazing pressure to reduce fuel loads so when fire occurs, there’s less fuel and a lesser degree of damage to the plant community, land and wildlife,” Davies says. “Our study results demonstrated that grazing actually makes the plant community more tolerant of fire.”

The study was completed in the Northern Great Basin Experimental Range in southeastern Oregon where the typical climate is cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Average annual rainfall in the area during the study was 11.8 inches. Soils at the test sites were loamy and contained sand, silt and clay and Wyoming Big Sagebrush is common to the area. Other native plants found at the test site include Thurber’s needlegrass, Idaho fescue, prairie junegrass, bluebunch wheatgrass and squirrel tail. In terms of topography, the site was primarily flat.

A 14-year study completed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has demonstrated that properly grazing rangeland before a fire maintains the quality of the burned area and helps keep invading plant species from taking over.

ARS Rangeland Scientist Kirk Davies says the long-held perception that plant life in the Intermountain West can’t tolerate some grazing pressure is incorrect.

“These rangelands actually need some grazing pressure to reduce fuel loads so when fire occurs, there’s less fuel and a lesser degree of damage to the plant community, land and wildlife,” Davies says. “Our study results demonstrated that grazing actually makes the plant community more tolerant of fire.”

The study was completed in the Northern Great Basin Experimental Range in southeastern Oregon where the typical climate is cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Average annual rainfall in the area during the study was 11.8 inches. Soils at the test sites were loamy and contained sand, silt and clay and Wyoming Big Sagebrush is common to the area. Other native plants found at the test site include Thurber’s needlegrass, Idaho fescue, prairie junegrass, bluebunch wheatgrass and squirrel tail. In terms of topography, the site was primarily flat.

A 14-year study completed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has demonstrated that properly grazing rangeland before a fire maintains the quality of the burned area and helps keep invading plant species from taking over.

ARS Rangeland Scientist Kirk Davies says the long-held perception that plant life in the Intermountain West can’t tolerate some grazing pressure is incorrect.

“These rangelands actually need some grazing pressure to reduce fuel loads so when fire occurs, there’s less fuel and a lesser degree of damage to the plant community, land and wildlife,” Davies says. “Our study results demonstrated that grazing actually makes the plant community more tolerant of fire.”

The study was completed in the Northern Great Basin Experimental Range in southeastern Oregon where the typical climate is cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Average annual rainfall in the area during the study was 11.8 inches. Soils at the test sites were loamy and contained sand, silt and clay and Wyoming Big Sagebrush is common to the area. Other native plants found at the test site include Thurber’s needlegrass, Idaho fescue, prairie junegrass, bluebunch wheatgrass and squirrel tail. In terms of topography, the site was primarily flat.

A 14-year study completed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has demonstrated that properly grazing rangeland before a fire maintains the quality of the burned area and helps keep invading plant species from taking over.

ARS Rangeland Scientist Kirk Davies says the long-held perception that plant life in the Intermountain West can’t tolerate some grazing pressure is incorrect.

“These rangelands actually need some grazing pressure to reduce fuel loads so when fire occurs, there’s less fuel and a lesser degree of damage to the plant community, land and wildlife,” Davies says. “Our study results demonstrated that grazing actually makes the plant community more tolerant of fire.”

The study was completed in the Northern Great Basin Experimental Range in southeastern Oregon where the typical climate is cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Average annual rainfall in the area during the study was 11.8 inches. Soils at the test sites were loamy and contained sand, silt and clay and Wyoming Big Sagebrush is common to the area. Other native plants found at the test site include Thurber’s needlegrass, Idaho fescue, prairie junegrass, bluebunch wheatgrass and squirrel tail. In terms of topography, the site was primarily flat.

editor’s note: complete details of the study is available at http://oregonstate.edu/dept/eoarc/kirk-davies


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