B.C. to enlist grazing cattle as latest wildfire prevention tool

Cattle are seen in a field near Ashcroft, B.C., Sunday, March 26, 2017. The B.C. government is partnering with the province's cattle industry to develop a targeted grazing program that could help prevent future wildfires. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The B.C. government is grabbing the bull by the horns in its efforts to prevent another devastating wildfire season.

The province announced Saturday it’s looking to enlist cattle and other livestock to create a targeted grazing program, which would help manage cured grass, fallen leaves and other natural fire fuels.

The B.C. Cattlemen’s Association is partnering with the province to help develop the program, receiving $500,000 in funding from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

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“Using cattle and livestock grazing minimizes the growth of annual and perennial grasses, which helps to reduce wildfire risks,” minister Doug Donaldson said in a statement.

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Parts of southern Europe and the U.S. have had success with targeted grazing programs, the province said, adding it can be a “powerful tool when used in combination with other methods” of wildfire prevention like prescribed burning.

Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham said in a statement the program will be a win-win for the province, as it both minimizes fire risk and supports B.C.’s cattle and meat industries.

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“Reducing the risk of wildfires and adapting to a changing climate requires more action than the status quo of the last 20 years,” she said. “It’s an intriguing model that I’m hopeful will become a mainstay in our efforts to protect our communities and resources from fires.”

The province said it will also work with local governments and Indigenous communities to “develop partnerships and provide opportunities for livestock owners, stakeholders and other interested parties.”

B.C. is bracing itself for another busy wildfire season after a particularly dry spring and a low snowpack has created drought conditions in parts of the province.

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It comes after a record 1.35 million hectares were burned across B.C. in 2018, up from the previous record of more than 1.2 million hectares in 2017.

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Nearly 200 wildfires have already sparked across the province since April 1 this year. More than 95 per cent of them are suspected to have been caused by human activity.

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