Got wildfire fuel around your rural home? Use website to find livestock to graze it

A new website helps put livestock to work on California land overgrown with wildfire fuel.

Owners of small rural properties can schedule visits by cattle and other livestock that munch on the fuel. The animals come from full-time ranchers and other participants in the program.

It is called Match.Graze and was launched in early November by the University of California Cooperative Extension. The website is free to use, but livestock owners typically charge for their fuel-reduction services.

Match.Graze holds the most promise with “ranchettes” and other small rural parcels. They lack enough acreage for full-time herds, but the grass and brush still need to be controlled to keep the homes from burning.

Record wildfire season underlines need

The launch comes near the end of the worst wildfire season in state history. More than 4.5 million acres of grass, brush and timber have burned to date. One of the largest blazes was in the hills west of Patterson.

Livestock owners can register their cattle, sheep or goats on the website, along with their location and the times they are available. They also can indicate whether they can bring portable fencing and water troughs.

Landowners needing grazing can go online and describe the terrain. It is most likely rangeland or irrigated pasture in and near the Central Valley.

But the service is also available to farmers who have crop residue on the ground after harvest. And livestock can chew on the plants that some farmers sow amid the trees and vines to enhance soil and pollinator habitat.

4-H and FFA members can find forage

Match.Graze will help cattle ranchers who already travel far to leased acreage, said an email from Theresa Becchetti, a livestock and natural resources adviser for the extension. She works in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

The website also could connect 4-H and FFA members who live in town but need grazing acreage for livestock they are raising, Becchetti said.

“I think the options are only limited by our own creativity, and having a clearinghouse like Match.Graze provides more opportunities for thinking outside the box,” she said.

Match.Graze comes in handy in places where prescribed burning is not practical because of the proximity to homes. It also could reduce herbicide spraying. And the animals leave a natural fertilizer behind.

Grazing has long trimmed wildfire fuel

The state’s cattle ranchers have long promoted grazing as a key part of wildfire management. Beef is the leading product in the foothills flanking the Valley.

Match.Graze provides a fine-grained approach to dealing with grass and brush close to homes. And the cleared space gives firefighters room to work when blazes break out.

One of Match.Graze’s co-creators is Stephanie Larson, the extension director in Sonoma County. In a news release, she said the program can “prevent catastrophic fire while helping landowners and agriculture.”

Marshall Turbeville, a Cal Fire battalion chief in that county, welcomed the help from livestock.

“I’ve noticed on several fires, including extreme fires, the fence lines where the fire just stopped,” he said. “And the one variable, the one difference, was grazing.”

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©2020 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.)

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