Originally published by The Narwhal

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It’s not rocket science, rancher Jordy Thibeault said: cows eat grass. All day, every day.

But could these grass-munching, docile cows become community heroes in the leagues of firefighters? That’s what some ranchers and researchers are hoping.

Thibeault and a handful of other ranchers in B.C.’s interior are bringing their cattle into lightly wooded areas on Crown land, close to people’s homes, to graze the understory and reduce dried grass that acts as fuel. The goal isn’t to stop wildfires, which are a natural part of the landscape, especially in grasslands in the Okanagan and East Kootenay region. The goal is to lower the risk to people’s homes and prevent the most dangerous fires.

This series of targeted grazing pilot projects, funded and organized by the province and the BC Cattlemen’s Association, is in its second year near Cranbrook, Summerland and Kelowna — areas hit hard by forest fires in past seasons.

The project began in 2019 when the province granted the BC Cattlemen’s Association $500,000 to investigate how effective targeted grazing might be in lowering wildfire risk to communities. It was introduced in the wake of the extremely destructive 2017 and 2018 wildfire seasons when 12,160 square kilometres and 13,542 square kilometres burned, respectively. Combined, that’s as if 80 per cent of Vancouver Island burned over two seasons.

After 2017 and 2018, the 2021 wildfire season is the third worst on record for area burned in B.C — with 1,600 fires burning almost 8,700 square kilometres of land. According to Jennifer Rice, B.C. parliamentary secretary for emergency preparedness, wildfires destroyed 343 homes across the province this summer.

Ecologist Amanda Miller said it’s “critical” to begin investing in mitigating fires in areas where urban areas meet wildland.

Read the story here: thenarwhal.ca/b-c-forest-fires-cows/