The Nevada-Placer-Yuba Disaster Livestock Access Pass Program operated for its second year in 2022. This program, available to commercial livestock producers in the three counties, is the first (and so far, only) multi-county program in California. The program is managed by UC Cooperative Extension and the Nevada, Placer, and Yuba Agriculture Departments, in partnership with CALFIRE and local law enforcement and emergency management agencies.
The program is available for commercial producers raising cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, rabbits, llamas, alpacas, and bees (commercial means the livestock are part of a business). To be eligible for the program, a producer must own 50 head of livestock (including in utero, e.g., 25 bred cows), 100 poultry or rabbits, or 50 beehives. The geographic area of the program matches CALFIRES Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit and reflects the on-the-ground reality that many commercial livestock producers operate in multiple counties.
The program is not an animal rescue or evacuation program; rather, the pass is designed to provide coordinated and safe access for producers with operations inside evacuation zones. Passholders work with UCCE and county agriculture departments to obtain permission from incident commanders to re-enter evacuation zones when it is safe to do so, for the purpose of feeding and caring for livestock.
In 2022, the program expanded by 68% - 72 producers obtained passes. New producers participated in a 4-hour training session hosted by UCCE, local agriculture departments, CALFIRE, and local law enforcement/emergency management agencies at the UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center (with lunch generously sponsored by the Sutter-Yuba Farm Bureau). Renewing passholders participated in an online refresher training developed by UCCE. While passes were not formally used during the 2022 fire season, the pass program created positive working relationships between the ranching community and first responders. These relationships resulted in opportunities to help address producer and livestock safety during the Rices Fire in Nevada County and the Mosquito Fire in Placer County.
The California State Association of Counties recognized the Nevada-Placer-Yuba program with a 2022 Challenge Award in the Rural Disaster & Emergency Response category, citing the program's innovative tri-county partnership and proactive approach to addressing both public safety and livestock well-being.
Governor Newsom signed AB 1103 (sponsored by Assembly Woman Megan Dahle) in October 2021. This legislation creates a statewide livestock pass program, with new statewide training due out in 2023. Once this new curriculum is rolled out, we will be scheduling training for new and renewing passholders in all three counties! If you'd like updates on these training sessions, or the program in general, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2022 Program Statistics
- 28% of passholders had operations in more than one county. On average, passholders operated on 2.4 individual properties.
- 35% had multiple species of livestock.
- 38% of passholders operated in Nevada County; 21% in Placer, 29% in Yuba, and 11% had operations outside of the 3-county region.
- Participation by livestock species:
- Beef Cattle: 65%
- Sheep: 32%
- Goats: 19%
- Poultry: 19%
- Bees: 15%
- Hogs: 8%
- Rabbits: 7%
- Dairy (Goats or Cattle): 6%
- Other Livestock: 11%
- 86% were owners or family members of commercial operations; the balance were employees.
With the month of May upon us, wildfire season (at least here in the Sierra foothills) is just around the corner. Indeed, May is Wildfire Awareness Month - the National Interagency Fire Center website is a great source of information on steps we can all be taking to make our communities, ranches, and homes more fire safe and fire resilient.
If you operate a ranch in Nevada, Placer, or Yuba County, one of the first steps you should consider taking is registering for this year's Disaster Livestock Access Program. Developed last year by a steering committee comprised of local ranchers, agricultural commissioners, and UC Cooperative Extension, the Disaster Livestock Access Program is designed to coordinate with emergency managers to provide ranchers with access to livestock in evacuation zones for the purpose of feeding, watering, and caring for commercial livestock.
Our program is unique in that our geographic coordination mirrors that of our local CALFIRE unit (which reflects the on-the-ground reality that many commercial ranches operate in multiple counties). Each county will recognize a pass issued by any of these three counties (Nevada, Placer, and Yuba).
Who qualifies for a Disaster Livestock Access Pass?
For the purposes of this program, a commercial livestock operator is defined as owning or managing 50+ head of livestock (including in utero, e.g., 25 bred cows), 100+ poultry or rabbits, or 50+ beehives that reside in Placer, Nevada, or Yuba County for at least a portion of the year. Cattle, sheep, goats, hogs, poultry, rabbits, llamas, alpacas, and bees that are "commercially raised" (e.g., as part of a business) qualify for the program. The program applies to both private land (owned or leased) as well as to public land (including US Forest Service and BLM grazing allotments).
Will a Disaster Livestock Access Pass get me through a road block?
Not necessarily. Your local agricultural department and I will work with incident command to identify areas within evacuation zones that are safe for passholders to access. Refer to the incident flowchart below for more details.
How do I get a Disaster Livestock Access Pass?
To enroll in the program, you must provide contact information, APNs, physical addresses, and/or allotment names of grazing sites, general season(s) of use, livestock description and inventory, and release of liability. You can register online at the N-P-Y Disaster Livestock Access Registration Site or by contacting me directly at email@example.com or (530) 889-7385. Ranchers will need to apply each year; even if you received a pass in 2021, you'll need to complete this registration process again this year.
Is training required?
If you haven't held a pass previously, you'll need to participate in a 4-hour training session on Saturday, June 4, 2022, from 9am to 1pm at the UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center in Browns Valley, CA. This training will provide an overview of the program, information on the incident command system and wildfire behavior, and an opportunity to ask questions with local law enforcement, emergency services, and CALFIRE. If you held a pass last year, you'll need to participate in a 1-hour virtual refresher course currently in development.
Preparation is Key!
Three days before our first 2021 training session, the River Fire tore through parts of Placer and Nevada Counties. Several of the ranchers who came to the workshop were able to describe the chaos and confusion of the early hours of the fire - as well as the need to coordinate with law enforcement and fire officials on the fly. Hopefully this program will improve our ability to communicate during an emergency - and provide access to care for livestock.
If you have questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 889-7385./span>/span>
Like many of you over the last several weeks (and indeed, over the last several years), I've read heartbreaking accounts of ranchers losing livestock in this latest round of devastating wildfires. I've talked to neighboring ranchers who helped friends evacuate livestock, and who moved their own animals to safe zones. And I've constantly watched the horizon for new smoke, and the sky for fire planes and helicopters. I've wondered what we can do as a ranching community to address our unique concerns and needs in the face of increasingly dangerous wildfires.
According to the California Fire Safe Council,
“Fire Safe Councils are grassroots, community-led organizations that mobilize residents to protect their homes, communities, and environments from catastrophic wildfire. A local Fire Safe Council is often sparked by a catalyst – perhaps a recent fire or a group of neighbors eager to spread a fire-safe message – then embraced by the community, which turns that initial interest into a committed group that finds ways to empower the residents to do their part to make the community safe.”
Most of these local Fire Safe Councils are formed by geographically related communities – counties, towns, or neighborhoods. But what about communities of interest? What about the ranching community? Our needs, when it comes to preventing and responding to wildfire, can be very different than a residential homeowner's needs.
Ranching in the Sierra foothills is unique. Many of us operate on multiple parcels, some leased, others owned. These ranches are dispersed throughout the community – they may be surrounded by residential communities or public lands. Some of us still take livestock to the high country, while others rely on irrigated pasture during the summer months. Many of us have livestock at multiple locations.
Because these ranches are grazed (or in fire terms, because the fine and ladder fuels are modified), ranches may provide areas where fire behavior changes – where firefighters can attack a fire directly. Ranches that include irrigated pasture may provide additional firebreak benefits. Some ranches have ponds or other water sources that maybe helpful to firefighting efforts.
Rancher needs during a wildfire may also differ from the surrounding communities. Unlike backyard livestock owners, commercial ranchers often have more livestock than can be evacuated by a single truck and trailer – making evacuation difficult even with enough warning. Ranchers with leased pasture may have difficulty accessing property and livestock during an emergency due to roadblocks. And ranchers typically have first-hand, on-the-ground knowledge – and oftentimes equipment – that may be helpful in the initial response to wildfire.
All of this brings me to an idea:
What if we created a Rancher's Fire Safe Council?
What if we formalized our efforts to inventory the equipment and expertise that could help protect ranch lands and the surrounding community? What if we formalized our relationships with CalFire, law enforcement, and other emergency services? What if we could train ourselves (and our neighbors) on things like safe evacuation and fire behavior? What if we formally became a resource for protecting our ranches and our communities?
I'd like to invite you to a meeting to explore this idea in more detail. And please feel free to invite other ranchers to participate. I envision this group being comprised of commercial producers – ranchers who have more livestock than could be evacuated in a single trailer, who are raising livestock as a business.
WHEN: Wednesday, October 28, 2020 – 6-7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Via Zoom – link will be provided once you register
Please RSVP at: https://ucanr.edu/survey/survey.cfm?surveynumber=32171
- What is a Fire Safe Council?
- Are there other ways to address the fire prevention, response, and recover needs of the ranching community?
- What could a Rancher's Fire Safe Council do? What are our top priorities?
- Who should be involved in this effort?
- Next steps
I look forward to hearing from you! What do YOU think a Rancher's Fire Safe Council could do? Leave a comment to this blog, or email me directly at email@example.com.
Over the last three days, we've had a stark reminder about our vulnerability to wildfire and public safety power shutoffs here in the Sierra foothills. On Saturday morning, as I was getting ready to participate in the California Wool Growers Association virtual convention, I received word that the power was out in the community where our ewes are grazing. This meant we'd likely have to haul water to the sheep (rather than filling troughs from a pump-fed hose bib) - doable, but time consuming. Fortunately, power was restored quickly, and we were able to fill the troughs - a relief since Saturday was one of the hottest days of the summer so far!
Last night, I awoke to the sound of one of our border collies opening the screen door and trotting into the kitchen (where he could hide beneath the desk). Mo hates thunder, and I realized that thunder had chased him inside. I went outside to watch the lightning dance around the hills to our west and north. These storms were dry, and so we awoke this morning to news of a number of small (and at least one not-so-small) fires just to our north in Nevada County. I can smell smoke outside my office as I write this.
These events remind us that we're approaching peak fire season here in the northern foothills. The continuing heat wave (we're supposed to be over 100F for the fourth consecutive day) is drying the fuel to critical levels. As we head towards autumn, we'll likely see stronger and more erratic winds - and, according to the flyer I received from Pacific Gas & Electric last week, more public safety power shutoffs.
Last year's shutoffs were chaotic, to say the least. Here in north Auburn, we lost power three or four times (I think; so much has happened since last fall, my memory is a bit hazy). I do recall that the warning calls and texts from PG&E were frequent and rarely accurate. We had difficulty finding ice for our ice chests, and folks seemed to have forgotten how to go through intersections without working traffic lights. I grew up with lengthy power outages from winter weather, so the loss of electricity was more of an inconvenience for us - thankfully we had a small generator handy, so we could keep the meat in our freezers cold.
Heading into this fall, though, we should all be thinking about how we can manage through these power shutoffs and prepare for wildfire. Here's a start:
Public Safety Power Shutoff Preparation
- Can we get water to our livestock if the power goes off? How much water will our livestock need per day? If I can't pump water to them, do I have enough tank capacity and water access to haul water to them until power is restored?
- Do I have back-up power for our freezers and refrigerators? What is at risk in these appliances? We no longer sell meat at farmers markets; if we did, I'd be sure to have enough backup power generation on hand. What about vaccines and other pharmaceuticals? We keep our animal drugs in a refrigerator in our shop - can we keep them cold if we have no electricity?
- Do we have enough gasoline to run our generator for several days?
- Do we have enough ice for our ice chests to get us through a day or two without power? We've started filling empty milk cartons with water and freezing them for future use.
- Do all of our flashlights and battery-powered lanterns have good batteries?
- Can we charge our phones and computers in our vehicles? My laptop has an adapter, and we all have car chargers for our smart phones.
- Have we signed up for alerts from PG&E and other emergency services? As unorganized as the PG&E alert system was last year, it was helpful to feel connected and to be getting updates. And since these shutoffs coincide with periods of high fire danger, access to our phones is critical.
Since large-scale fires often coincide with loss of power, most of the preparations listed above apply here, too. But there are additional questions we think about when it comes to fire:
- Can we get to our sheep in the event of fire? Currently we have livestock on two leased properties at some distance from our home. In the event of a fire at these locations, we would contact law enforcement and animal control if we needed to gain access.
- Do we have contact information for landlords and neighboring landowners where our livestock our grazing, just in case we can't get access?
- Who would we call if we needed to haul our livestock out of the path of an oncoming fire? We can't get all of our sheep in one load, so we'd need to call for help.
- Alternatively, are there safe zones where we could place our livestock if we didn't have time to evacuate? Irrigated pastures or dry lots devoid of flammable vegetation may give us some emergency protection in a fast moving fire.
- Do we have a texting tree or a calling tree to check in with other ranchers in our community? I have found that county and CalFire emergency notification services typically don't provide timely information about small, local fires. But my ranching friends are always on top of things - often, the first word I get about a fire in our part of Placer County is a text from a fellow rancher.
- Are our buildings and other infrastructure protected? Since we have livestock in multiple locations, I think about this beyond our home place. Are there fire breaks protecting fences and forage? Have we removed brush around buildings and corrals?
- Do we have fire tools available to us? I keep a fire rake and a 5-gallon backpack pump in my truck during the summer - I've never had to use them, but I feel better having them with me.
You can sign up for PG&E alerts at at https://www.pge.com/mywildfirealerts (if you're a PG&E customer) or https://pge.com/pspszipcodealerts (if you're not a PG&E customer). You can also access PG&E's weather forecasting center at https://pge.com/weather.
Finally, I want to hear from you! What are you doing to prepare for fires and power outages? Share your ideas in the comments below, or on the UCCE Sustainable Foothill Ranching Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FoothillSustainableRanching/.
When we were in the targeted grazing business, I always marveled that many landowners and land managers didn't start thinking about managing their fuel loads until the grasses and other fine fuels really started growing in April. To this day, I still get phone calls and emails in April and May inquiring whether I can provide sheep or goats to reduce someone else's fire danger. Even now, with more producers providing targeted grazing services throughout the state, there simply are not enough livestock in California to treat all of the dangerous fine fuels (what many of us used to call "fall feed"). Consequently, we need to think about where and how we graze strategically - where can we provide the greatest protection to neighborhoods, infrastructure, and even our own farms and ranches?
Every spring, I see a news report where CalFire suggests that we're facing another dangerous fire season. Either we've had lots of precipitation, which means lots of grass (a.k.a., fine fuel), or we've had a dry, warm spring (like this year), which means fire season may start earlier than normal. This week, we're coping with the first heat wave of the summer (even though it's not officially "summer" yet) - which always raises awareness of the fire threat even further. We've even seen the first grass fires in the Sacramento Valley. I know I've started paying more attention to the aircraft flying over our home place - all summer, I glance up to see if it's a fire plane (and if it is, I start looking for smoke on the horizon). Finally, these first hot days remind me that it's time to get serious about our ranch fire plan (click here for a fire planning for ranchers fact sheet).
Now I'm certainly no expert when it comes to fire behavior - that combination of fuels, topography, and weather that drives site-specific wildfire conditions. However, when I look at the areas where we graze our sheep in the summer months, I think this fire behavior triangle is a useful lens. I ask myself the following questions:
- Where are the fine fuels most likely to create a ladder for fire to get into brush or trees?
- Where are the likely ignition sources in this landscape? While I can't necessarily control the natural ignition sources (like lightning), are there other potential sources (like recreation areas, roadways, utility infrastructure)?
- Are there assets in the community or on the particular property that I want to protect from fire? This may include homes, outbuildings, wells, sensitive ecological areas, or other values.
- Are there areas where modifying the fine fuels could slow a fire, giving firefighters a chance to stop it? This relates, at least in part, to the topography of a particular location.
When it comes to this last point, I think it may be useful to think of grazing like we're creating what my forester friends call a shaded fuel break. My friend Allen Edwards, who owns timber land outside of Colfax, had the foresight to construct a shaded fuel break on his property on either side of an access road along the ridge between the American River canyon and Interstate 80. To create the shaded fuel break, Allen removed the ladder fuels under his mature trees (brush, small trees, and limbs on the larger trees). When the 2001 Ponderosa Fire came out of the canyon on a hot August day, his shaded fuel break allowed firefighters to safely make a stand and keep the fire from moving further east and north, into the town of Colfax. In the lower foothills, we may be able to use targeted grazing in similar manner. A combination of grazing and browsing livestock (cattle, sheep, and goats) can modify the fuel load such that fire behavior will change enough to give firefighters a chance. These "grazed" fuel breaks don't necessarily remove all of the flammable vegetation, but grazing impacts (including removal of the vegetation and trampling, which can reduce oxygen circulation within the dry forage) can slow a fire's advance. These types of fuel modifications should be coupled with roads or other access points that allow firefighter access in the event of a fire.
If you're considering using a targeted grazing contractor, click here for a fact sheet. I also have a list of regional targeted grazing contractors available on my website. If you're a rancher who is thinking about adding targeted grazing as an enterprise, here's a short power point on the Principles of Targeted Grazing. If you still have questions, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org./span>/span>