Smokey the steer: The surprising role of cattle in community fire safety

Amie Peck, Stakeholder Engagement Manager at the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, explains how targeted grazing can help reduce the risk of wildfires, which devastated 8,700 square kilometres of British Columbian land in 2021.

Keith Manders clearly remembers the night that wildfires raged close to his home. “My wife looked out the window at 4:00 AM and saw flames coming down the mountain,” he recalled quietly. “You can imagine how we felt.” Fortunately, for the rancher from Summerland, British Columbia (BC), their house was spared, as was most of the crown land that Manders uses seasonally to graze his cattle. The experience reinforced what he and other local ranchers had known for years – that cattle can be used to influence wildfire behaviour.

Recent record wildfire seasons in BC have seen up to three times more carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere than from all the province’s fossil fuel‑burning sources combined. Frequent, catastrophic fire events have transformed BC forests – once a carbon sink – into a carbon source, turning the climate change flywheel even faster.