U.S. Joint Fire Science Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Fire Science Brief, Issue 78, November 2009


US government work.


Large grazing ungulates—notably cattle, elk and American bison—if given a choice exhibit a grazing preference for regrowth on recently burned areas of grassland. Traditional rangeland management approaches that minimize inherent rangeland heterogeneity are increasingly understood as counter to the evolutionary history of rangeland. Heterogeneity is defi ned as variation in the characteristics of vegetation including species, biomass, and height. Recent research now fi nds an alternative approach to rangeland management through patch burning, giving a variegated texture to the grazing land and more closely simulating the earlier evolutionary pattern of much North American rangeland. Patch burning creates a mosaic of patches at varying stages of recovery from burning and grazing disturbance. Advantages include more diverse plant and animal habitats, more consistent fuel stock control, and creation of the grazing habitat preferred by both domesticated cattle and indigenous grazing species. Research sponsored by the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) examined whether use of patch burning to increase rangeland heterogeneity is a useful tool for wildland fi re management while also serving as a tool for rangeland conservation and improvement.