Organizations hope to create action in the wake of a disastrous fire season

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By Elisabeth Watkins

Ranchers and landowners are increasingly turning to organizations and lobbying agencies in hopes to create action from lawmakers in the wake of a disastrous fire season.

California’s North Complex Fire burned over 300,000 acres claiming 15 lives and an uncountable number of livestock and wildlife throughout Yuba, Plumas and Butte Counties in August as reported by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

CAL FIRE and local fire departments have responded to 9,177 wildfires this year to date, representing a 46% increase over 2008.

The North Complex Fire took the life of 350 cows and calves owned by cattle rancher and California Cattlemen’s Association Past President Dave Daley. Daley’s family has been grazing cattle in the Plumas National Forest dating back to 1882 before it was designated as such. Today the U.S. Forest Service issues grazing permits which come with oversight and regulatory restrictions on grazing in the forest. Daley argues the North Complex Fire “is not a result of what’s happened this year but what’s happened for the last 60 years.”

His deep ties to the land are evident. He has begun to raise the seventh generation to love every stream and ravine the cattle graze. “I grew up hearing the stories from my dad and grandad of the ‘last man out’ lighting the forest floor to burn the low undergrowth. Their generations knew to reduce the ladder fuels that spread the fire to the canopy, to open it up for the wildlife,” explains Daley.

Organizations like the California Cattlemen’s Association are working to document the tragedy and challenges presented by wildfires. “Throughout this fire season leadership has been documenting the challenges. We have been in contact with ranchers on the miscommunication between agencies, access issues and other challenges they’ve faced amid the wildfires,” says Katie Roberti, director of communications at CCA.

“CCA will be pushing for change in land management practices,” Roberti says. “We will ask for more prescribed burns and the reintroduction of livestock grazing on private and public lands. Both will be essential to mitigating the impacts of future extreme fire seasons.”

The CCA is encouraging those both directly and indirectly affected by the wildfires to document the events they have endured. Every story is a reason for lawmakers to pass policies to improve the management of our federal lands and keep our forests healthy.

Wildfires are dangerous to our firemen. Julian Rodriguez was one of the thousands of firefighters assigned to the North Complex Fire. For seven days straight he fought the fire for 12 hours a day.

“Each year we say we’ve seen the worst fire, yet each year the record is surpassed” explained Rodriguez. He continued, “Our forest management practices are not working.” The way the federal lands are being managed is creating more danger for our firemen, destroying property and taking lives. “As a fireman I am sworn to protect life, property and the environment.”

To reduce the number of wildfires we need to “take away the fuel that the fires have to grow on” says Rodriguez. He believes this is possible by reevaluating vegetation control plans to include more prescribed burns and animal grazing.

Poor forest management puts firemen in danger. We know from experience that stopping every small fire only leads to more fires. They gain traction faster due to the enormous quantities of fuel created from vegetation on forest floors not cleared by natural causes explains Rodriguez. Nature has its cycle to clean, clear and reproduce.

Daley stressed by imposing government regulations on forest management and stopping every phenomenon of natural forest management we are destroying our forests, killing our citizens and endangering our animals.

Daley urges for action, “We need to communicate to people that this is not a cattle or rancher issue. It’s a California issue. This is not about me or ranching. If we don’t change policy people are going to lose their lives and their homes.”

Professor Dave Daley is the past Associate Dean for the College of Agriculture at California State University, Chico. He serves as the chairman of the California Cattle Council. Daley was nationally recognized with the Continuing Service Award from the Beef Improvement Federation in 2009, a member of the UC Animal Welfare Task Force and statewide co-chair of the Animal Welfare Task Force for California Cattlemen.