Science Says Post-Fire Grazing on Rangelands Is Not Harmful

Current federal regulations recommending that rangelands be rested from grazing for two seasons after fire are not supported by science. In fact, the research shows that healthy prairie ecosystems require grazing and fire. When tested on the ground, evidence shows that moderate post-fire grazing causes few impacts on northern mixed-grass prairie vegetation. That's the conclusion of Emily Gates of Montana State University working with researchers at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service's Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory. In their paper, "Reconsidering rest following fire: Northern mixed-grass prairie is resilient to grazing following spring wildfire" the authors review the existing science surrounding the effects of fire and grazing on prairie health, and provide the results of a two-year study comparing grazed and ungrazed plots in three burned pastures in South Dakota. The federal recommendations are based on several assumptions: 1. Fire weakens plants and makes them less able to recover if grazed. 2. Fire kills plants so recovery will depend on new seedlings. 3. Increased bare ground after a fire increases soil erosion risks, and could increase with grazing. The authors first reviewed past research to find that these assumptions are not supported by science. First, plants do not necessarily die after fire, so new seeding is not requ

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2 thoughts on “Science Says Post-Fire Grazing on Rangelands Is Not Harmful

  1. Your article highlights that ranchers do not need to defer grazing post fire, but does not indicate what species of plants you are talking about. These studies focus on increaser species and not the bunchgrass decreasers that are taller growing, more productive during drought, and are the site dominant species in the potential native plant community. These bunchgrasses, are sensitive to grazing following fire, and especially in a ponderosa pine/bunchgrass habitat type following fire, deferment is needed to establish these grasses after the forest canopy is removed. The research is correct for the plants they measured, but extremely misleading to conclude that the entire mixed grass prairie area follows suit. I could give many examples but will just conclude by saying: this article should have indicated that this study refers to western wheatgrass, needle and threadgrass, blue grama, prairie junegrass, threadleaf sedge, and Sandberg bluegrass and there is little to no effect with moderate grazing immediately post fire on these plant communities. Thank you.

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