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

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-

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Here is the actual study.




  1. Alan Gregory Avatar

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

  2. Buffaloed Avatar

    They have big fires in Florida too.

  3. Alan Gregory Avatar

    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. Mike Post Avatar
    Mike Post

    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…


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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