Livestock grazing potentially has substantial influence on fuel characteristics in rangelands around the globe. However, information quantifying the impacts of grazing on rangeland fuel characteristics is limited, and the effects of grazing on fuels are important because fuel characteristics are one of the primary factors determining risk, severity, continuity, and size of wildfires. We investigated the effects of long-term (70 yr) livestock grazing exclusion (nongrazed) and moderate levels of livestock grazing (grazed) on fuel accumulations, continuity, gaps, and heights in shrub-grassland rangelands. Livestock used the grazed treatment through 2008 and sampling occurred in mid- to late summer in 2009. Nongrazed rangelands had over twofold more herbaceous standing crop than grazed rangelands (P < 0.01). Fuel accumulations on perennial bunchgrasses were approximately threefold greater in nongrazed than grazed treatments. Continuity of fuels in nongrazed compared to grazed treatments was also greater (P < 0.05). The heights of perennial grass current year's and previous years' growth were 1.3-fold and 2.2-fold taller in nongrazed compared to grazed treatments (P < 0.01). The results of this study suggest that moderate livestock grazing decreases the risk of wildfires in sagebrush steppe plant communities and potentially other semi-arid and arid rangelands. These results also suggest wildfires in moderately grazed sagebrush rangelands have decreased severity, continuity, and size of the burn compared to long-term nongrazed sagebrush rangelands. Because of the impacts fuels have on fire characteristics, moderate levels of grazing probably increase the efficiency of fire suppression activities. Because of the large difference between fuel characteristics in grazed and nongrazed sagebrush rangelands, we suggest that additional management impacts on fuels and subsequently fires need to be investigated in nonforested rangelands to protect native plant communities and prioritize management needs.
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