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The most powerful phrase is "where does my food come from?". As a cattle rancher and member of the beef community in Yavapai County, I am always amazed at the number of consumers who want to know the story of their food. In many cases, the avenue to obtain this is buying food directly from ranchers and farmers in your area. This is one of the reasons the local food movement has become popular. 

One of my main challenges stems from the mismanagement within the Arizona Forest Service and Prescott National Forest. 

A fair amount of beef cattle within Yavapai County graze on National Forest Lands in the Prescott National Forest. Ranchers lease (similar to renting) National Forest Land to raise their cattle. The Prescott National Forest encumbers 38% of Yavapai County. This land is divided into approximately 58 active grazing allotments. A rancher leases each grazing allotment. Prescott National Forest allows 69% of those allotments to graze cattle year-round.

When our relationship is working correctly, Forest Service range cons/employees work with ranchers to co-manage allotments. This relationship ensures a positive symbiotic relationship between the land, wildlife, native grasses, and cattle. One of the benefits is the reduction of wildfires. 

In fact, The Forest Service Grazing Handbook states that Forest Service is to co-manage allotments with ranchers. But unfortunately, the Arizona Forest Service and Prescott National Forest ignore their handbook and call all the shots. This incorrect use of power negatively impacts my ranch, the environment, and your family's beef supply.

My ranch is a Prescott National Forest allotment with a seasonal allocation. For years we have been following the Forest Service Handbook to a T in an effort to change the allocation to a year-round allotment. This would mean that my cattle would be permitted to rotate from pasture to pasture on the allotment all year round. Doing so reduces wildfire risk, aerates the soil, spreads fertilizer, sequesters carbon, spreads native grass seed, and more. 

The Forest Service Handbook states that Allotment Management Plans are to be completed by the National Forest every ten years. The Prescott National Forest completed the last Allotment Management Plan on my ranch 17 years ago. They refuse to update the complete a current Management Plan. 

Time and time again, I have provided scientific data to the Prescott National Forest, pleading my case in allowing a year-round grazing allotment. Unfortunately, time and time again, they reject changing it to a year-round allotment with no data to back their decision. 

In 2017, approximately 80% of this ranch was involved in the Goodwin Fire. The wildfire devastated the land, native grasses, fences, and water systems. 

The Prescott National Forest Handbook states a 50% cost-share by the National Forest and the rancher to rebuild destroyed range improvements (fencing, windmills, stock tanks, water drinkers, pipelines, etc.). Prescott National Forest rejected all my requests for the 50% cost share. Decline after decline, we applied for grants through the NRCS and AZ Game and Fish. Through these programs, we were given some funds to assist in rebuilding the ranch. 

With this ranch's rough terrain, most ranch access is limited to horses and pack mules. We rolled, packed, and replaced over 30,000 pounds of rusty burnt barbed wire with pack animals. Packing the materials into the mountains and rebuilding the fences took 2.5 years.

As the National Forest refused to assist, they were right there demanding unachievable perfection. We could have saved months of labor and pack animal/cowboy stress with the use of a helicopter from the National Forest. It amazes me how many helicopters were present during the fire yet absent to ensure the safety of the cowboys, fence builders, and pack animals to rebuild after the fire. A fire that could have been prevented if my cattle had been allowed to do their jobs and eat the fire's fuel. 

One benefit of the fire was burning thousands of acres of thick chaparral. In its place, native grasses and high-protein scrub oak shoots gained space to grow. After rebuilding the ranch, we hoped to capitalize on this positive aspect of the fire. The Prescott National Forest once again refused to allow cattle to manage this land year-round. 

They denied annual grazing on this allotment. We spent thousands of additional dollars employing the best ranch management scientists to complete an internal ranch management assessment after the fire. Our experts worked for the National Forest for over 30 years and stated emphatically that my ranch could sustain the annual grazing of cattle when managed correctly. With the last official Allotment Management Plan being 17 years ago (the handbook required a completed plan every ten years), I was hopeful the internal assessment would hold weight. This is why we hired our own experts to guide us. The Prescott National Forest rejected our report. 

Today the native grass on my ranch is over 2 feet high. I am prohibited from utilizing my cattle to eat away fire starter and fire fuel. The ranch is ready to burn again. 

The National Forest Handbook defines their terms. It describes using long-term trend data, evaluating pasture specifics, reading the range, co-development, sampling protocol, and adaptive management plans. The Prescott National Forest is ignoring these terms and descriptions. Why? Their agenda is "no grazing". The stark reality is no grazing equals fire and less food for your family.  

This issue goes much further than year-round allotment classifications. For several decades the Prescott National Forest has been reducing the number of cattle allowed to graze on Forest Land in Yavapai County. Prescott National Forest's inability/willingness to follow their own published handbook means less food and increased forest fires. 

The recent Crook Fire within the Prescott National Forest was the direct result of a grazing allotment being closed to cattle. Cattle are a benefit to the land and reduce the risk of fire. 

Prescott National Forest is negligent. Prescott National Forest does not follow their handbook. Prescott National Forest is causing wildfires. Prescott National Forest is putting your homes, properties, and families in danger! 

Written by Tim Peterson.

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