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Using cattle for wildfire mitigation in Boulder

A heard of cattle is roaming the foothills of Boulder and eating grass to help wildfire mitigation.

BOULDER, Colo. — A herd of cattle on Shanahan Ridge might just be the key to keeping homes in South Boulder safe from wildfires. For the ninth year the herd is grazing the hillside south of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder.

By grazing, the cattle also reduce vegetation that can become fuel for a wildfire.

"Every year we bring in a herd of cattle from one of our local ranchers in Boulder County to help us with vegetation management goals," program supervisor, Kelly Uhing said.

The original purpose of the cows was to reduce invasive plants that where outcompeting the native ones. Looking back at the NCAR fire that burned the same area in 2022, the city of Boulder now has the evidence to show the cows reduce wildfire risk as well.

"We observed that in the grazed areas compared to the non grazed areas, the fire severity was significantly less," Uhing said.

Where the cows had grazed, the fire damage was minimal. Where they hadn't, the ground was scorched.

"Once it hit those grazed areas... it slowed the fire down significantly," Uhing said.

"They definitely like to do their job," Max Karkut said of the cows. Karkut's job is to watch over the cows.

"Some people call me the cow wrangler, cow whisperer," he said.

Because the cows roam on a public trail system, close to homes, Karkut also encourages hikers to show the animals respect.

Which is exactly what Penn Richmann, who lives in the neighborhood, does every year.

"We consider them our neighbors," said Richmann. "We live in the area and we've seen about three wildfires within five miles of our house... when the wind is gusting, we really appreciate having the cows."

The herd was brought to the area in early May. They'll remain there through late June.

The city asks people to appreciate the cows, but to also watch their dogs around them. Of the 70 plus cows, many are mother and calf pairs.

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