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BLM begins grazing effort to reduce cheatgrass -- and fires -- along Owyhee Front

Posted: 3:07 PM, Apr 02, 2018
Updated: 2018-04-02 21:07:14Z

The Bureau of Land Management has begun an experimental targeted grazing project aimed at reducing the risk of fires -- while still maintaining rehab efforts -- within the Soda Fire zone, roughly from the towns of Marsing to Murphy.  Participating local ranchers will be grazing livestock along 36 miles of Owyhee Front roadways from now through June.

This effort is part of the larger Soda Fuel Breaks project designed to reduce fuels, specifically annual grasses such as cheatgrass, according to a BLM news release. “The purpose of this is to provide firefighters a better opportunity to prevent wildfires from burning a landscape that is still recovering three years after the 443-square-mile wildfire,” the release said.

“We’ve made important gains in rehabilitating the area burned in the Soda Fire with the help of many partners,” said BLM Boise District Manager Lara Douglas. “Targeted grazing allows us to experiment with a new tool to protect those gains, while at the same time supporting traditional land uses.”

The Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission is partnering with the BLM to raise awareness of the targeted grazing efforts with both the local community and visiting recreational users who may see livestock on roads. 

Gretchen Hyde, executive director of the Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission, said, “We feel it makes sense to graze off the cheatgrass in a timely manner, when it’s palatable to livestock -- and before it becomes a fire hazard.”

IRRC officials have contacted off-road vehicle recreation groups to give them a heads-up that cattle will be grazing along the Owyhee Front this spring as part of the project. 

The BLM has posted road signs in the project area to inform recreation users and the public about the project.

The goal is to reduce vegetation to a height of two inches or less for 200 feet on both sides of the selected roads by late June, prior to peak fire season, the BLM said.  

“Fuel breaks are a tremendous asset for firefighting in the Owyhees,” Acting BLM Owyhee Field Manager Lance Okeson stated.  “By creating a solid anchor point with an extensive fire break at the foot of the Owyhees, we go a long way toward protecting multiple-use sage-steppe habitat for wildlife, which we’ve worked so hard to restore after the Soda Fire.”