Yes, they are. There’s a strange, elite idea that cattle grazing in forests and on grasslands is an efficient use of the land, and then we turn around and spend hundreds of millions of dollars fighting the fires they make. Sound a bit contrary? Not at all. Here’s how it works. Cattle eat aspens, and they don’t come back. On their own, aspens retard fires. Once the fire has passed, aspens grow up strongly from their roots to create even stronger fire protection. Here’s a website that tells the whole story: https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/beauty/aspen/ecology.shtml. Aspens are single individuals with hundreds if not thousands of stems. They’re not trees, exactly. They’re like beaver ponds lifted into the sky. The image below shows an example of part of the process from the Cariboo. This is a mixed pine, spruce and aspen forest that lost most of its pines to beetles a decade ago. For some thirty years, it has been protected from cattle. It has not burnt (yet). In the last three years, the aspens have returned, making a fine, wet firebreak in a dry, grassy pine forest, and those pines go up like barrels of gasoline.
Can you spot the old, “dead” aspen, in the centre of the picture, from which these young ones are sprouting? It came down about 4 years ago.
So, a couple things. First, those exploding fire-spreading pines are what the Province of British Columbia plants as a forest crop. Second, it leases out the land for cattle grazing. Third, where cattle graze, there are no plants left, not even any wildflowers, nothing except pines and a few rose bushes here and there, and now and then some kinnikinnic drying out on the rocks. In other words, treating an aspen forest as a cattle-grazing ground is inviting fire and making perfect conditions for it. In this province, cattle, the first industry in the Interior, have seen their day. We have gained the wisdom to bring net-penned Atlantic salmon farming to an end on the Coast, for the damage it does to native Pacific salmon. It’s time to bring similar wisdom to bear on the cattle, and keep them out of the trees. It is, literally, life and death.