A recent government report analyzes the current wildfire situation and suggests some solutions to curb the problem, but fails to look at livestock grazing as an effective wildfire prevention tool, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) said.

NCBA highlighted this issue in a letter sent to President Clinton. The letter is in response to a report the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior, Sept. 8, submitted to the Administration. The report cites the government's decades-old practice of direct fire suppression, which allowed shrubs and other easily burnable forage to accumulate, as contributing to this year's expansive wildfires.

Part of the fuel for forest fires occurs when forage increases in wet years, the government report stated. When followed by dry years, the same forage becomes a fire hazard.

"Unfortunately, the report does not suggest any modification to grazing plans to address the harvest of additional forage in heavier than normal rainfall years," said Jason Campbell, NCBA director of federal lands. "Grazing is widely accepted as an economical and ecologically sound method of reducing fire fuels."

By altering or allowing more grazing in these areas where excess forage has grown, land managers would address several issues at once: controlling the fuel for forest fires, providing more management options for cattle producers and improving ecological condition across many landscapes, Campbell said.

The report recommends the government create a federal team to implement a fire readiness and fuel reduction program. The federal team would receive input from state and local governments. NCBA's letter urged federal agencies to seek more community and producer-landowner involvement, should it follow this suggestion.

"A top-down approach to federal lands and forest management does not work, as has been proven by this year's fires," Campbell said. "We would like to see the government make a real effort to improve community involvement by including resource users, such as cattle producers and private landowners."

Family livestock operations have seen millions of acres of forage and hundreds of livestock consumed by fire, Campbell added.

"These families have a vested interest in ensuring a fire season of this magnitude does not occur again," Campbell said. "Creating a task force to examine the problem may appear like a sound solution on the surface. But underneath, it is nothing more than another layer of government, if land managers fail to gather input from the people directly affected by these policies."

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