- Author: Karen Giovannini
- Author: Stan Wise, South Dakota Soil Health Coalition
Improved soil health, increased profitability, and reduced spread of wildfire are among the many benefits that arise from keeping livestock on the landscape. Efforts are underway in California and South Dakota to connect landowners with livestock managers for their mutual benefit.
Farmers can increase the organic matter in their soil and reduce their fertilizer costs by allowing livestock to graze crop residue or cover crops on their land.
Nick Jorgensen, CEO of Jorgensen Land and Cattle in Ideal, SD, said that grazing every acre allows his operation to increase soil organic matter by up to 0.75% per year and cut fertilizer costs by $50 per acre with no yield loss.
Livestock managers can rest their pastures and reduce their feed costs by seeking out crop residue, cover crops and additional pasture or rangeland for their livestock to graze.
Jorgensen said that grazing cattle on all crop and cover crop acres cuts his feed and manure management costs by up to $2 per head per day.
Grazing livestock is also a cost-effective way to reduce the accumulation of fire fuels on the landscape, helping to slow the spread of wildfires. This can be especially important for land that is too steep, rocky or remote for mowing or chemical treatment.
“I've noticed on several fires, including extreme fires, the fence lines where the fire just stopped. And the one variable, the one difference, was grazing,” CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Marshall Turbeville said.
As this year has proven, fire is a serious risk to California landowners. That's one reason University of California Cooperative Extension has launched Match.Graze. It's a map-based website designed to help livestock owners find pasture, rangeland, cover crops or crop residue available for grazing and help landowners find cattle, sheep, goats and other livestock to graze their land.
“Every property is different and requires thoughtful consideration of how it should best be grazed,” said Stephanie Larson, director of UCCE in Sonoma County, UCCE livestock and range management advisor and co-creator of the livestock-land matchmaking service. “UC Cooperative Extension is here to serve. Put Match.Graze to work, and let's prevent catastrophic fire while helping landowners and agriculture.”
California landowners and livestock managers can visit MatchGraze.com, set up a free account, create a pin on the map and find a grazing partner.
The California website is based on the South Dakota Grazing Exchange, the original site launched by the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition with work supported by Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Many farms in South Dakota have moved away from livestock to focus on row crops. However, increased diversity and incorporating livestock are two key principles for good soil health management.
At www.sdgrazingexchange.com farmers can find livestock to graze their crop residue or cover crops in order to capture the soil health benefits for their cropland without having to own livestock. Similarly, ranchers can give their pastures and rangeland a rest and reduce their feed costs by finding farmers with cropland to graze.
The Match.Graze and SD Grazing Exchange websites are not limited to California and South Dakota. Users from anywhere in the nation can create accounts on either website and advertise their land and livestock. The more people who use the websites, the better resources they will become.
When landowners partner with ranchers to keep livestock on the landscape, everyone wins, so the SDSHC will work to help other states create Grazing Exchange websites and connect to the maps and users of Match.Graze and SD Grazing Exchange. For more information, contact Cindy Zenk, SDSHC coordinator, at (605) 280-4190 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Firefighting resources are stretched thin because of the amount of wildfire burning throughout California, which means first responders may not be immediately available to protect your home. If you are near, but not in a wildfire evacuation area yet, you can help improve the odds your home will survive.
“There are pre-evacuation steps that can really help your home survive wildfire,” said Yana Valachovic, a fire scientist with the University of California Cooperative Extension.
First make sure you are registered for the proper alerts in your area and follow all evacuation guidance. Pack and be ready to leave at a moment's notice. If at any time you feel unsafe or conditions change quickly, don't wait for an alert to evacuate: Move yourself, your family and pets or livestock to safety.
Even with fire imminent, there are several actions you can do to help prepare your home to withstand fire exposure. UC Cooperative Extension guidance can help residents prepare their home in the days or hours before wildfire exposure.
If you believe you have at least a couple of hours before fire exposure, review the area around your home and outbuildings for items that could lead fire to the structures:
- Move combustible items inside or away from the buildings, especially within the first 5 feet of any structure or attached deck
- Clean your gutters and other places of needle or leaf accumulations on or near the house
- Move BBQ propane tanks away from structures
- Bring in cushions from outside furniture
- Move doormats away from the house
- Seal vents (attic, foundation, drier, etc.) with plywood or heavy foil to prevent embers from entering
- Close all windows and pet doors
“The goal is to remove combustible items away from structures so that embers don't ignite these materials and result in flames touching the house,” Valachovic, UCCE forestry advisor, said. Sealing up vents can help prevent embers, or small bits of burning vegetation, from being blown inside the home.”
If first responders get to your home, Valachovic says you can help them out by leaving a ladder against the house, placing buckets or garbage cans of water around the home, and leaving connected garden hoses in easy-to-locate places. Also, leave out a shovel or other tool that could be helpful to put out small spot fires.
“After you have packed your essentials and your go bag, dress for the evacuation by wearing cotton or wool clothing, a hat, boots, bandanna or mask to protect your nose and mouth, and pack leather gloves,” she said. “These items will help you be prepared if you have to get out of your vehicle or move fallen trees during your escape to safety. Additionally, it may be helpful to pack a shovel, digging bar, chainsaw, or other tools just in case your evacuation route gets blocked.”
As you evacuate, leave gates open or unlocked so first responders can access your property.
If time allows, turn on the lights in your house to increase visibility and leave a note on the door indicating where you went and who is with you. These instructions can help you reunite with your loved ones.
Thinking through these steps and implementing them if fire is near, can help your home and your family survive wildfire. For more evacuation guidance, visit https://ucanr.edu/sites/fire/Safety/Evacuation.
If you have more time to prepare for wildfires, UC Cooperative Extension provides more information at https://ucanr.edu/sites/fire/Prepare, including a fire map and tips for home hardening and defensible space strategies.
When conditions improve, remember to prioritize and implement home hardening and defensible space actions to help prepare for future wildfire exposures.
“Ember-resistant construction relies on awareness of seemingly small details that can make your home vulnerable to embers, in addition to building with appropriate materials, and regular home and property maintenance,”Valachovic said.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
After the destructive LNU Complex Fire burned through farms and ranches where Morgan Doran lives and works, he immediately volunteered to help families and local authorities take care of animal victims.
Nearly 300 animals – mainly horses, sheep, goats and alpacas – were killed during the LNU Complex Fire in Solano County. Some were hit by vehicles, others couldn't escape burning buildings.
“I helped locate animals that needed attention and shared burial and other disposal options and guidelines,” Doran said. He also created an online survey for dead or missing animal reporting.
Doran, also the director of UC Cooperative Extension in Sacramento, Solano and Yolo counties, and his staff and partner organizations – including the USDA Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Districts, local resource conservation districts and county officials – have organized a free webinar to help local residents in fire recovery. The webinar is from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10. Pre-registration is required.
Topics to be covered are:
- Navigating the agency alphabet soup for disaster assistance
- Understanding wildland fire impacts
- Impact of fire on oak woodlands, what to expect and what to do
- Impact of fire on rangelands, what to expect and what to do
- Impact of fire on orchard trees, what to expect and what to do
- Impact of fire on vineyards and wine grapes, what to expect and what to do
- Erosion risks and mitigation measures
- USDA disaster programs and how to apply
In areas where the Moc Fire burned near Moccasin, Calif., UC Cooperative Extension 4-H advisor in the Central Sierra, JoLynn Miller, joined partners to activate Team ELITE (Evacuation of Livestock in Tuolumne Emergencies) so trained volunteers could help move animals to safety and ensure they are fed and housed during the wildfire.
The organization was established in the wake of the 2015 Butte Fire, when officials recognized the need for coordinated animal evacuation planning. They drafted Miller, an experienced horsewoman and community volunteer, to spearhead the group.
“We work closely with and are dispatched by animal control during an emergency,” Miller said. “Team ELITE requires members to be trained in incident command systems and they are sworn Disaster Service Workers once they complete a Team ELITE orientation and training. The Moc Fire was the first fire where we've done evacuations.”
Team ELITE was placed on standby on Aug. 20. A few hours later, three teams were behind the fire lines.
“Volunteers worked throughout the night to pick up animals,” Miller said. “The first night we had donkeys, chickens, horses, alpacas and pigs evacuated.” The animals were held at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Tuolumne County.
The team spent three days, Aug. 22-24, feeding and watering animals. Aug. 25 the evacuation orders were lifted and they helped families get their animals back home.
For more information about Team ELITE, see its Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TeamELITEinformation/
Valuing the losses
Federal, county, CALFIRE and other officials routinely turn to UCCE experts to gather information about the impact of wildfire on agricultural lands.
Two UC Cooperative Extension rangeland advisors, Theresa Becchetti of Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties and Sheila Barry of San Mateo, Alameda, Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties, both cover areas burned by the SCU Fire.
In order for a disaster to be declared and for insurance payouts, a value must be attached to losses caused by the wildfire. In rangeland areas, components of the losses include hundreds of miles of fencing, forage, stock ponds and damage to the soil and seedbank that could impede grass growth for years. Livestock may also be lost in wildfires.
“In some respects, the SCU Fire was an invisible fire because it didn't threaten vineyards or redwoods – landscapes that get more attention. It is grassland, oak woodland and brushland. Some very small pockets of forest,” Barry said. “But it is actually the second largest fire in the state's history.”
Becchetti had previously developed a methodology for calculating forage losses. The two scientists were able to use the system for establishing the economic loss to ranchers and government agencies caused by the blaze. CALFIRE also used the information to inform the distribution of its firefighting resources.
“The Farm Service Agency has told us that the information we put together on the value of the area is enough for the local county committees to declare a disaster, which will release emergency cost share programs,” Becchetti said. “We are continuing conversations with the agencies in the four counties and starting to put information out for ranchers.”
UCCE will host meetings regarding fire recovery and disaster assistance programs. Visit local UC Cooperative Extension websites for details.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Late in August, the Helena Fire closed six schools in Trinity County and forced 2,000 people out of their homes. Ultimately, 70 houses were destroyed and Gov. Brown issued a state of emergency in the mountain community.
In the midst of the tragedy, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition education specialist Margarita Alvord and program supervisor Janessa Hartmann quickly developed a plan to serve the children they couldn't reach during the school closures and organized activities to support local families. Alvord brought together several organizations, including Human Response Network, First 5 Trinity County, and Weaverville Parks and Recreation District to address the needs of the fire-stricken community.
The agencies developed a plan to provide youth activities, including physical activity, nutrition education, arts and crafts, and games. They served healthy lunches and provided three days of programming at the Local Assistance Center in Weaverville.
"We received significant positive feedback from parents, teachers and community members, showing Trinity County's strength, resilience and solidarity," Hartmann said. "The staff at UCCE Trinity County seized the opportunity to ensure the students, families, and community displaced during the fires were offered opportunities to learn and have fun in a safe place."