Targeted Grazing for Fuel Load Reduction

Final report for OW22-373

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2022: $74,811.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2023
Host Institution Award ID: G103-23-W9211
Grant Recipient: University of California Cooperative Extension
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Stephanie Larson
University of California Cooperative Extension
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Project Information


Wildfires in California and throughout the West are growing increasingly severe. Fire season is lasting longer, wildfires are larger, and wildfire effects are negatively impacting ecosystems and communities. The lack of fuels management, especially in and adjacent to the wildland-urban interface (WUI) is exacerbating these impacts and threatening both natural resources and human communities. Municipalities, homeowner associations, utilities, and other landowners and managers are searching for cost-effective and ecologically sensitive tools for addressing annual and long-term fuel-loading. In the California North Bay counties of Sonoma and Marin, as well is in the Sierra Foothill counties of Placer and Nevada, grazing can be one of the most effective tools available.

Concurrently, rangeland livestock producers are increasingly interested in diversifying their operations to include targeted grazing services. Unlike conventional grazing management, targeted grazing refocuses the outputs of grazing from livestock production to vegetation management and landscape enhancement (Launchbaugh and Walker 2006). While there is increasing demand for these services, ranchers have concerns over animal well-being, especially in the context of forage nutrition.

This project assessed both landowner/manager motivations for and satisfaction with targeted grazing as a fuels management tool, as well as producer knowledge of forage species (including nutrition) and strategic use of grazing to address critical wildfire mitigation needs in coastal and foothill landscapes.  Our research resulted in a valuable document, Brush Field Guide booklet, which highlights the nutritional value of many rangeland species commonly grazed to reduce fuels.  The research analysis of each species provides nutrient, fiber and protein analysis from plants collected. Discussions with our producer group assisted with the design of the Brush Field Guide booklet.

Match.Graze as helped connect landowners/managers with grazing contractors, and to help conventional producers decide if a targeted grazing enterprise will enhance the economic viability of their operations. During this granting period, several meetings were held to inform landowners about Match.Graze and the use of grazing as a tool to management vegetation for fuel reduction. Several matches have been made from using this online platform, resulting in more grazers grazing and more land being grazed.

Grazing offers a unique opportunity to reduce fire fuels, mitigate climate change and support local agriculture. Animal agriculture systems have focused heavily on production for weight gain and marketing of meat and milk. Relatively little is known about managing livestock on brush while maintaining animal welfare standards. This project will continue to support grazers in managing public and private lands by providing technical support and research about animal husbandry and nutrition.  Meetings held provided trainings focused on animal health, welfare, technology, and business management. We found that many grazers were experienced in livestock management, few have previous experience managing a business. Educational materials developed from this project will support new grazing business along with increasing the longevity of  current grazing operations.

Project Objectives:
  1. We will increase landowner/manager knowledge of grazing and access to grazing services by improving and expanding Match.Graze (, an online database created by University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Livestock Advisor Stephanie Larson (the principle investigator on this project).
  2. We will develop field survey and analysis tools for targeted grazing practitioners to assess the forage value (palatability and nutrition) and appropriate season and age class to optimize both fuels reduction and livestock production goals via targeted grazing.
  3. We will collaborate with fire planning professionals to provide a better understanding to landowners/managers and targeted grazing practitioners as to where grazing can be most effective strategically across north coast and foothill landscapes.
  4. We will provide business planning and economic analysis tools to targeted grazing practitioners and conventional livestock producers to help enhance the economic viability of their operations.

Table 1 Targeted Grazing for Fire-Load Reduction





Jul – Sept/22


Oct – Dec/22


Jan – Mar/23


Apr- Jun/ 23

Convene a five-producer working group in two different geographic areas; hire consultant to work with Larson & Macon.






Conduct a survey of landowners currently enrolled on Match.Graze






Conduct outreach to 5-10 large scale landowners in each respective county.






Collaborate with fire planning professionals.






Collect vegetation samples for nutritional analysis






Create Field Checklist; Translate checklist & other materials into Spanish, Common Field Guide Booklet






Develop educational materials on business planning & economic analysis.






Conduct educational workshops for current and potential targeted grazers; in local and statewide locations.






Conduct evaluations with grazers and herders on use of checklist and other educational materials.






Assess usage of Match.Graze, using google analytics, from beginning of project to end. Updates to Match.Graze website.  










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Materials and methods:

Our research plan addressed specific elements in each of our three project objectives:

  1. Increase landowner/manager knowledge of grazing and access to grazing services through a survey of current landowner users of Match.Graze ( In 2019, PI Stephanie Larson created Match.Graze, an online platform that connects landowners who don’t have grazing animals to livestock owners with animals that can provide vegetation management services. As part of the reach aspect of this grant, a survey was initiated, received approval by Institutional Review Board (IRB), UC Davis, (#1792938-1), and then launched as one part of the research component of the grant. The IRB was approved and issued a Not Research determination for the project, category of program evaluation. This does preclude this project from sharing results via presentations and / or publications. The survey addressed the usage of Match.Graze by grazers and landowners from around California.  The survey was sent to all users that had signed up for Match.Graze, determining if the site met their needs, either grazing or vegetation management. If not, what were the barriers to usage and what improvements were needed. Survey results provided guidance on the additional educational materials and/or information created from this grant. Survey results gave the project team direction on what educational materials should be developed, including:
  1. Understanding of Natural Resource / Land Goals
  2. Infrastructure – fencing, water, etc.
  3. Understanding the Cost / Benefit Ratio of Grazing
  4. Understanding Grazing Species Usage
  5. Timing of Grazing
  6. Leases / Request for Proposal Assistance
  7. Completing a Lease, Bidding a Grazing Job, etc.
  8. Labor – How to Hire Laborers
  9. Animal Protocol Standards
  10. Grazing Public vs Private Lands


  1. WSARE MatchGraze Report

2024_RangeLivestock_GrazingCurriculum_PrivateLandownersFAQs_UC ANR_brand _Fact sheet template

  1. Collect forage sample to determine the palatability and nutrition of the species. The project is focusing on stocking rate and timing of grazing as grazing strategies that will increase the nutritional forage value for grazers to enhance consumption of targeted woody plants (brush). Through producer meetings, producers have indicated they are very interested in having a guide the documents nutritional seasonality of brush species. Producers want to know and be able to educate their herders about forage quality and quantity needed to meet their animal’s nutrient. Brush species samples have been collected at two different seasons to determine if there is a change in nutrient value. The PIs are using two publications, to create a more robust analysis of brush. These are UC ANR Publication, Profiles of California Brush Targeted Grazing to Reduce Fire Fuel Loads in California Chaparral Series, Part 1, and UC ANR Managing Small Ruminant Nutrition in Chaparral, Both Dan Macon and Roger Ingram were involved in the development of these publications and will bring their experiences / expertise in the development of educational materials. Producers have been educated on how to collect and identify the species in the field they’re grazing. Samples have been analyzed for crude protein (CP), condensed tannins (TCT) and acid-detergent fiber (ADF). Using the UC ANR Publications, and the combined results from a comparative analysis will build the field guide. This field knowledge will help grazers and herders better strategize the timing of their grazing to achieve resources goals while maintaining animal’s nutritional needs based on the nutrient value of the species present.


  1. Collaborate with fire planning professionals through the Cal Fire Hazard Maps to analyze where grazing can be most strategically effective across north coast and foothill landscapes. Today, California forests have undergone great change with denser trees and more brush in conifer forests and oak woodlands. Federal forests now have higher fire probabilities than other public or privately-owned forests (Starrs et al. 2018)1. And according to Marshall Turbeville, CAL FIRE Battalion Chief, Sonoma County, “Areas that have been grazed, have reduce the spread of dangerous and costly fires. I’ve noticed on several fires, including extreme fires, the fence lines, between grazed and ungrazed lands, the fire just stopped. And the one variable, the one difference, was grazing.”  PIs continue to meet with local fire professionals, discussing the different methods to manage vegetation with a particular focus on grazing.  Fire professional participated in several meetings held which encouraged landowners to consider using grazing as a management tool which assisted in project-specific grazing strategies.  

1Carlin Frances Starrs et al 2018 Environ. Res. Lett. 13 034025

Wildfire Fuel Mapper

The Wildfire Fuel Mapper was created to help landowners and managers in locating and understanding fire hazards on their land, providing users with a set of tools, resources, and information to help landowners and managers reduce fire hazards. The Wildfire Fuel Mapper can also be utilized by professionals to support their clients in planning vegetation management projects. The fuel mapper was used in this project to help landowners better understand vegetation management and which tool to use, where and when to get the best fire resiliency results. 

The Wildfire Fuel Mapper helps landowners and managers:

  • Understand vegetation types and the need for fuel treatments
  • Download best available information for properties and watersheds
  • Connect with experts who can help plan and implement forest friendly fuel treatments

Vegetation management is designed to alter the amounts and arrangement of fuels that sustain wildfires. These actions have been shown to lead to fewer, smaller, and less damaging fires. You can take the next steps to implement a vegetation management plan and, together, we can support our region’s overall resilience to wildfire.


Research results and discussion:

In speaking with our project producers, they were very interested in collecting more samples and at different seasons. Therefore, before the plant booklet is published, we plan to collect additional plant samples spring, summer and fall.  With the samples that have been collected, a nutritionist was hired and she developed guidelines for increasing nutrition for targeted grazing animals.  The booklet will contain the nutritional value of each plants, the need to supplement and which supplement to use (depending on the season). This information will be very valuable to grazers as it will help to maintain the nutritional needs of these animals while reducing unnecessary usage of supplementation at times when animals move place to place. These developed field guides provide accurate forage value assessment (palatability and nutrition). This will help grazers in determining the appropriate season and age class to optimize both fuels reduction and livestock production goals via targeted grazing (October - December).

This project has gained great interest from local fire professionals, and we will continue to provide grazing expertise to to local communities interested in reducing fire risk and overall vegetation management.  Having fire professionals at community meetings has provided a platform for vegetation management discussions with large landowners;  increasing the understanding of grazing as a management tool for fuel reductions. The meetings for landowners/managers and targeted grazing practitioners increased knowledge of where grazing can be strategically implemented across north coast and foothill landscapes.

Participation Summary
6 Producers participating in research

Research Outcomes

Recommendations for sustainable agricultural production and future research:

Research is ongoing; we are still collecting plant samples. Producers were given a protocol to follow when collecting the samples. An excel spread sheet has been created to document the analysis from each plant.  PIs continue to meet with CAL FIRE and local fire professionals to discuss the different methods to manage vegetation with a particular focus on grazing. Grazing has been introduced as a method to reduce fine fuels and brush encroachment in several meetings. Stephanie Larson was on two educational  panels with fire professionals where the project was discussed. 

Grazing collaboratives have been discussed and developed in several communities. The cities and towns involved were committed to achieve a carbon neutrality by 2030 through implementation of sustainable practices. Discussions with each community resulted in an evaluation of the effectiveness, economic viability, and environmental benefits of employing animal grazing for vegetation management.  Research objectives were to mitigate dense vegetation contributing to wildfire risk, particularly in areas prone to such hazards, aligning with the city/town's efforts to enhance fire safety and resilience within the urban landscape. This resulted in reduced usage of chemical herbicides in compliance with Integrated Pest Management  (IPM) programs.   Participating towns/cities:

  1. City of Santa Rosa
  2. City of Healdsburg
  3. Town of Windsor
  4. City of Petaluma

Results demonstrated grazing animals effectively managed targeted vegetation, indicating the potential synergy between animal grazing and the IPM programs. Observations suggested a reduction in targeted plant species with the use of chemical herbicides, setting a precedent for natural pest control methods within the urban landscapes.

There were positive environmental impacts, including improved soil health and biodiversity in areas were grazing occurred. These initial outcomes aligned with the 2030 carbon neutrality objectives, demonstrating early signs of reduced carbon emissions associated with minimized use of machinery and chemical treatments. 

Initial cost analyses suggested that the grazing program demonstrated promising cost-efficiency compared to traditional mechanical and chemical-based methods. While initial setup costs may be comparable, the long-term sustainability and reduced reliance on ongoing maintenance expenses indicated the economic viability of the program over time. 

Research and educational programs have garnered significant support and engagement from the local community, showcasing a strong interest in sustainable land management practices. Community members expressed enthusiasm for environmentally friendly approaches, underscoring the importance of public involvement in shaping strategies for managing vegetation within the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) in the future.  

1 Grant received that built upon this project
5 New working collaborations

Education and Outreach

25 Consultations
15 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
5 On-farm demonstrations
2 Online trainings
4 Published press articles, newsletters
3 Tours
3 Webinars / talks / presentations
3 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

75 Farmers participated
9 Ag professionals participated
Education and outreach methods and analyses:


  1. Outreach to Current Match.Graze Users. Suggestions and comments received from the survey were implemented into Match.Graze, making it a more educational, robust website. The survey results included assessments from current landowners using the site, suggesting modifications as needed to meet increased usage. The results from the survey provided guidance on what additional educational materials and information is needed by landowners and grazers to better understand and embrace grazing as a management tool. This information supported the expansion of Match.Graze and has increasing usage and “matches made” between grazers and landowners. 
  1. Field Checklist and Guide to Common California Shrub and Brush for targeted grazing practitioners. A field guide will assist targeted grazer businesses and their herders to assess the forage value (palatability and nutrition) and appropriate season as well as age-class to optimize both fuels reduction and livestock production goals. UCCE worked with its producer group to determine which species were most important to evaluate the forage preferences relative to cattle, sheep, and goats to make recommendations for using the right species at the right time on the right vegetation (to optimize the value of targeted grazing). UCCE collected several brush species during three different seasons. A nutritional analysis was conducted for each species.   A Field Guide to Common California Shrub and Brush is being reviewed and will be printed soon. The field guide will include photos of common species, their nutrient values, and their seasonal differences.


  1. Create county links to the Cal Fire Hazard Map for landowners to assess fire risk and fuel loads.  Intensive grazing around the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) reduces flammable vegetation fuels and creates fire breaks. The project has:
  • Applied science-based research for application of fuel reduction, fire prevention, and rangeland resiliency strategies.
  • Supported practices, such as Targeted Grazing, through Match.Graze, assisting with application of and increased knowledge on grazing.
  • Reviewed existing educational materials on grazing to assist landowners with developing vegetation management plans that impact more acres grazed and practices implemented.
  • Coordinated with regional stakeholders, CCA, CWA and other local community groups to support the development and implementation of targeted grazing as a fire resiliency strategy.


  1. Educational Materials Working with the producer committee, we expanded existing business planning and economic analysis tools designed to help new producers analyze targeted grazing opportunities. The project developed business planning and economic analysis tools for the use of targeted grazers. Publications grazing strategies, labor requirements, “how to” for grazing on public and private lands, goal setting, and business planning. Materials are distributed through the UCCE network to provide livestock grazers knowledge in collaborate grazing increasing targeted grazing understanding, through increased business opportunities and economic success.
  1. Educational Workshops. Several workshops were held, including the UCCE Grazing School, October 20-21, 2023.  Different venues and audiences resulted in greater delivery of information to a wider audience. The project created robust county, regional and statewide herbivore opportunities, evaluates all potential grazing areas and recommends appropriate targeted grazing as a land management tool. The educational meetings provided opportunities for grazing on both small- and large-scale landscapes. The project included a collaborative outreach effort with the Santa Rosa Junior College, outreaching to a greater diverse work force interested in providing fuel management services, especially grazing.  An expected outcome is increased business opportunities for new and existing grazers as well as herd managers. An expanded workforce could help build a more resilient, local, and sustainable industry.

Targeted Grazing for Fuel Reduction

UCCE Grazing Survey

  1. Updates to Match.Graze website.  Through Match.Graze, UCCE expanded use of grazing in California to achieve collective fuels-reduction goals by providing a service to connect people with land to people with animals. Educational materials created by UC ANR’s, Sharing Working Landscapes,; are now included on the website. These publications discuss how to work with grazing animals, facilitate an understanding between the different grazing species, identify infrastructure needs, and clarify how to co-exist with grazing livestock. These educational materials help landowners better understand grazing and how to implement it on their properties to reduce fire loads.  Educational information explains how livestock grazing removes fine fuels like grasses and herbs, and in some ecosystems, can restrict shrub encroachment, particularly if grazing occurs when shrubs are seedlings or after initial shrub treatment has occurred.

May.13 Grazing Meeting


Education and outreach results:
  1. Outreach to Current Match.Graze Users. Suggestions and comments received from the Match.Graze survey  are being implemented into Match.Graze making it a more educational, robust website. The survey results provided guidance on what additional educational materials and information was needed by landowners to better understand and embrace grazing as a management tool. The site expansion now includes the ability to rate a grazing business, helping other landowners to ensure the service will be completed.  Educational materials were created and highlighted in local agriculture newspapers.



Fire fuel reduction flyer

10 Farmers intend/plan to change their practice(s)
4 Farmers changed or adopted a practice

Education and Outreach Outcomes

Recommendations for education and outreach:

A survey was conducted to access usage of Match.Graze by landowners, requesting suggestions on making the website more robust. These changes have been made. The results from the survey provided guidance on what additional educational materials and/or information is needed by landowners to better understand and embrace grazing as a management tool.

Two producer meetings have been held. All producers shared experiences, needs and barriers to increasing their businesses.

Producers have been interested collecting a variety of plants that their animals graze or leave in the field. Many plant samples have been collected and analyzed. More samples will be collected. From the analyses, a nutritional guide will be developed for each producer.  Photos of the plants are also being collected. All collected materials will be used to create a producer checklist in both English and Spanish. Producers and herders will be trained on how to use the checklist during the different seasons of grazing. Evaluations from checklist will generate grazing recommendations.  Also, a Field Guide to Common California Shrub and Brush will be developed. The field guide will include photos of common species, their nutrient values and their seasonal differences.

A grazing school was held in April 2022, where interested students attend to learn how to start a targeted grazing business. Project's targeted grazers spoke about their own targeted grazing business.


UCCE Grazing Survey

Producers have worked with PIs, to create a cost study for interested individuals wanting to explore a targeted grazing business. 


10 Producers reported gaining knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness as a result of the project
Non-producer stakeholders reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of project outreach
50 General public
15 Students
1 Ag Service Providers
Key changes:
  • Producers are gaining a greater knowledge of the nutritional value of different plants they graze. They are also learning when plants can and can't be grazed due to plant toxicity. They're finding this information very helpful in deciding which and when to include supplement in their grazing program.

  • In producer's meeting, the exchange of ideas, issues and barriers has been well received. The producers are learning how others are approaching their grazing programs, and are sharing ideas on how to be more successful. This has been extremely helpful to the producers that are just starting their targeted grazing business.

Information Products

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.