British Columbia

Hundreds of cattle enlisted to help wildfire prevention efforts in southeastern B.C.

Two-hundred cattle spent June grazing on a large area of Crown land south of Cranbrook, B.C., as part of the pilot project. Targeted grazing is a fire risk mitigation method already being used in southern Europe and some parts of the U.S.

Pilot project considers using GPS collars instead of fencing to contain the cattle

A new pilot project south of Cranbrook, B.C., is testing the practice of targeted grazing to prevent wildfires. (Tyler Zhao)

A wildfire prevention project in southeastern B.C. has enlisted an army of unusual soldiers to help keep dry grasses and other tinder in check.

Two-hundred cattle spent June grazing on a 52 sq. km area of Crown land south of Cranbrook, B.C., as part of the pilot project. Targeted grazing is a fire risk mitigation method already being used in southern Europe and some parts of the U.S.

The grazing is "targeted" in terms of when and where the natural biofuels are being consumed. It often has to be combined with other methods, such as prescribed burning.

Removing conifers — a major source of forest fires — is part of the Cranbrook project managed by Mike Pritchard, wildfire prevention coordinator with the B.C. Cattlemen's Association. This practice may boost the growth of grasses and increase fire risk, but those grasses are more likely to be eaten by cattle.

"When we remove conifers, we naturally increase light and increase water, and it grows grass. And so this grass is very palatable in most cases," Pritchard told Chris Walker, host of CBC's Daybreak South.

Some conifers have been removed from the grazing ground to allow more grasses to grow for the cattle. (Tyler Zhao)

The project used electric fencing to prevent the cattle from wandering away. 

But Pritchard says electric fencing is not the ultimate solution. He's hoping Telus will provide GPS collars to be worn by cattle in October for another experiment. These collars would allow project administrators to control the movement of cattle without building physical fences.

The solar-powered collars will sound alarms when the animal is within five metres of the virtual boundary, and the animal may get zapped if it gets too close to the virtual fence. 

Electric fencing was used on the grazing grounds during the June trial. (Tyler Zhao)

Pritchard runs a parallel pilot grazing project in Summerland and Peachland, B.C. He expects the project could be fully implemented next year. 

The targeted grazing initiative is sponsored by the Ministry of Forests in B.C. and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

According to the B.C. Wildfire Service, there were 569 fires across B.C. between Apr. 1 and Aug. 25 of this year, with 7,656 hectares of land burned. Most fires have occurred in the southeastern part of the province.

With files from Daybreak South, Steve Zhang and Canadian Press

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