Building a more climate resilient California

State Leaders Tour Land Decimated by Wildfire 

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On June 4, at his cattle ranch just outside of Oroville in Butte County, California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) Past President and current California Cattle Council Chairman Dave Daley and his son Kyle Daley hosted the Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency Wade Crowfoot, Secretary Karen Ross of the California Department of Food & Agriculture and Director Thom Porter with the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection (CalFire) and a handful of other regulators for a tour and informational session that highlighted the devastating ecological impacts of the North Lightning Complex Fire. Spanning the better part of the day, the tour and discussion highlighted the importance of better managing public and private lands through grazing, fire fuels reduction, conservation and the protection of rangelands. 

Starting with introductions and conversations at the Daley Ranch, later in the morning the tour continued up in the Plumas National Forest giving the regulators a firsthand look at the devastating impacts last year’s wildfire season had on the mountains. The Daleys have been taking cattle up to a grazing allotment in these mountains for generations. In the 2020 Bear Fire—later part of the North Lightning Complex Fire—nearly 400 of their cows and their calves on the allotment were killed. With Kyle and Dave driving the group up to the allotment in vans, they were able to provide a narrative of what the land used to look like and show the unimaginable damage the forest now faces following the fire.

Traveling through the forest, it took a trained eye and some time to find any signs of life. A beetle. A seedling. A butterfly. For Californians who have been in the state long or traveled through it often, it is not uncommon to become accustomed to fire season and witnessing landscape scarred by fire; usually finding respite quickly on the freeway seeing normal growth just around the bend. On this trip to the Northern Complex Fire’s burn scar finding anything normal took some doing.

While touring the fire devastation was difficult for many, especially for the Daley Family, it was a rather sobering yet powerful illustration of the desperate need for regulators to partner with ranchers across the state to help prevent catastrophic wildfire events through better management of our forests and rangelands. While protecting ecosystems on both public and private lands is something the ranching community is extremely proud of, it may not be widely known amongst those holding senior level leadership positions within key levels of state government. It was goal of this tour—sponsored by the California Cattle Council, CCA and the California Cattlemen’s Foundation— to deliver that message through the discussions had that day, in addition to creating new opportunities for ranchers to collaborate with state agencies to protect rangelands and to help reduce fire fuel loads immediately. These options must include increasing grazing on state lands in fire prone areas, reducing regulatory barriers to getting prescribed fire on the ground and allowing ranchers access to their herds during wildfire events to keep them safe. 

The tour also highlighted to state policymakers the ways in which ranchers steward the state’s land, water and wildlife resources every day. The Newsom and Biden Administrations have made clear their goals to conserve 30% of state and federal lands and waterways by 2030 (“30×30”). As ranchers all know, productively grazed rangelands already serve those conservation functions. Grazing conserves our open spaces, provides habitat and other benefits that conserve native biodiversity, and conserves our atmosphere through carbon sequestration and the reduction of fire fuels. By getting Secretary Crowfoot, Secretary Ross, Director Porter and other key staff on a working cattle ranch, the groups were able to demonstrate the ways in which California’s 38 million acres of rangeland managed by ranchers are already conserved – and that the Administration’s 30×30 goal need not be at odds with the practice of livestock grazing.

“There’s so much we can learn from the men and women that are actually out on the ranches, on farms, in our commercial forests, around how we can conserve the environment and build economic prosperity around the state.”

Secretary Wade Crowfoot

California Natural Resources Agency