This is a revised version of an earlier story.

Here is the news release from the Western Watersheds Project.

Rocky Barker also discusses it in his recent blog.

BLM Report On The Murphy Complex Wild Fire Shows That Grazing Has Little Effect On Fire Behavior.


Idaho BLM has released a long awaited Report on the Murphy Complex Fire. The Murphy wildfire blaze burned over half a million acres of sage-grouse and pygmy rabbit habitat in summer 2007.  BLM, ranchers and Idaho politicians had hoped the Report might show that livestock grazing can reduce wildfire impacts. Instead, it showed little to no effect of livestock grazing in limiting fire spread.


In fact, under the hot, dry conditions typical of western wildfires, grazing would have to be conducted to such a degree that only bare dirt, manure and trampled grass remained to make much difference at all. Such severe grazing leaves no habitat value for sensitive species such as sage grouse, pygmy rabbits or other species such as mule deer.


A Roll-out session for the Report was held at the BLM Idaho State Office. Backers of the public lands livestock industry on the panel appeared flummoxed by their inability, after a year of study, to show that grazing made any difference at all in the Murphy fire behavior. The only effects on fire behavior that grazing influenced were found in artificial modeling simulations in grasslands. These models were based on higher fuel moisture and cooler air temperatures than would be expected during the normal fire season.

The most important factors for intense wildfire are extreme heat, dryness and strong wind.  The Report shows that grazing has no measurable effect when these summer conditions prevail.


The study did not examine any consequences which would come from the level of grazing necessary to affect fire behavior or how it would increase the prevalence of fire prone cheatgrass which has little to no habitat value, and is itself highly flammable.

In some instances, members of the study team grasped at straws to try to explain how pre-existing grazing in the Murphy Complex might have stopped a fire by showing aerial photos of fence corners and trough areas that didn’t burn. WWP, however, had visited these sites on the ground, and this is what such places in the path of the fire that did not burn looked like.

-end of news release-

– – – – – –

Here is the actual study.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

4 Responses to New report says grazing had "negligible" effects on size of Murphy Complex fire

  1. avatar Alan Gregory says:

    The grass is indeed a lot greener in Florida and Georgia.

  2. avatar Buffaloed says:

    They have big fires in Florida too.

  3. avatar Alan Gregory says:

    True, true. And they burn hotter, it seems. But Eastern states. including Fla., still have greener grass that feeds more livestock per acre thnan the semi-arid landscape of the Owyhees.

  4. avatar Mike Post says:

    I hope other agendas arn’t at work here with this report. It seems counter-intuitive that a process that reduces the fuel load on the ground will have no impact on fire behavior. I am not an unrestricted grazing fan but this just doesn’t make sense. Am I missing something here…

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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