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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Burns, Oregon » Range and Meadow Forage Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #390555

Research Project: Restoration and Conservation of Great Basin Ecosystems

Location: Range and Meadow Forage Management Research

Title: Using virtual fencing to create fuel breaks in the sagebrush steppe

item Boyd, Chad
item O'Connor, Rory
item RANCHES, JULIANA - Oregon State University
item BOHNERT, DAVID - Oregon State University
item Bates, Jonathan - Jon
item JOHNSON, DUSTIN - Oregon State University
item Davies, Kirk
item PARKER, TODD - Vence Corp
item DOHERTY, KEVIN - Us Fish And Wildlife Service

Submitted to: Rangeland Ecology and Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/22/2022
Publication Date: 9/5/2022
Citation: Boyd, C.S., O'Connor, R.C., Ranches, J., Bohnert, D.W., Bates, J.D., Johnson, D.D., Davies, K.W., Parker, T., Doherty, K.E. 2022. Using virtual fencing to create fuel breaks in the sagebrush steppe. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 89:87-93.

Interpretive Summary: Fuel breaks can be effective in combating wildfires in the western US, however, fine fuels must be maintained within acceptable abundance levels for maximum efficacy. We tested the effectiveness of virtual fencing for spatially focusing cattle grazing within the bounds of a pasture-scale fuel break in the sagebrush steppe. We found that virtual fencing was highly effective in containing cattle locations and associated forage utilization within fuel break boundaries for dry cows, but less effective for cows with calves. Virtual fencing, particularly when combined with geospatial technologies for mapping grass fuel accumulations, has strong potential for use in managing grass fuel abundance within fuel breaks and potentially larger rangeland landscapes to benefit a wide variety of management expectations and values.

Technical Abstract: Wildfires are increasingly impacting ecosystem processes and ecological services provided by sagebrush rangelands in the western United States. Mitigating this problem involves actions taken before, during, and after fire. In recent years, there has been increased emphasis on prefire fuel management, including fuel breaks. Cattle grazing can be used as a tool to manage fine fuel loading within fuel breaks; however, spatially focusing grazing impacts inside a linear fuel break is challenging. We evaluated using virtual fencing (VF) technology for concentrating grazing impacts inside a 200-m wide, 3-km long fuel break within a 410-ha pasture in sagebrush steppe. The fuel break was bounded by four 35-m wide virtual fences, each consisting of boundaries for auditory (10-m wide) and electrical cues (25-m wide), and a traditional 5-strand barbed wire perimeter fence delineated the pasture perimeter. In June 2021 we in- troduced 16 dry cows and 23 cow/calf pairs into the fuel break following a 5-d VF training period; cattle were removed after 30 d. Cows were fitted with VF collars (calves not collared) that use Global Posi- tioning System positioning to contain cattle inside fuel break boundaries and record animal locations at 5-min intervals. End-of-trial forage utilization was 48.5% ±3.7% and 5.5% ±0.7% for areas inside and out- side of the fuel break, respectively. Daily percentage of cattle locations inside the fuel break was initially > 94% but declined to approximately 75% by the end of the trial. Percentage daily locations of dry cows and cow/calf pairs inside the fuel break was 98.5% ±0.5% and 80.6% ±1.1%, respectively ( P < 0.001). Our data suggest virtual fencing can be a highly effective method of concentrating grazing to reduce herba- ceous fuel biomass within linear fuel breaks. Efficacy of this method could be substantially impacted by use of dry versus cow/calf pairs.