Wildfire Ash on Forage: Should we be concerned?

Wildfire Ash on Forage: Should we be concerned?

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In 2018, as the Camp Fire was still burning in Butte County, a number of University of California colleagues, led by Area Dairy Advisor Betsy Karle, sampled irrigated pasture forage, hay, and corn silage from locations throughout Northern California (including several pastures here in Placer and Nevada Counties). Some of these regions had been impacted by ash fall and wildfire smoke; others had not. Our intent was to learn if ash created any potential toxicity or other health problems for livestock. We were especially interested in looking at heavy metal concentrations.

As we once again find ourselves in smoky conditions, I thought it might be helpful to provide an overview of our findings. For the most part, we did not find any concentrations of metals, minerals, or other compounds that should cause concern for livestock producers. Similarly, Tracy Schohr, who is the Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor for Butte, Plumas, and Sierra Counties, looked at water quality during the immediate aftermath of the Camp Fire. Her results were also unremarkable. Read more here.

The take-home message from our forages study (which I think also applies to water quality) is this:

"While more detailed and controlled studies could provide additional information, these results indicate that forages affected by wildfire ash deposition are likely safe for livestock to consume.

"If you have forages that may be affected by ash deposition, evaluate the concentrations of minerals before formulating a ration [or grazing pastures]. If you're exceptionally concerned about toxicity from contamination and cannot dilute with unaffected feed, isolate and test feed for heavy metals and organic compounds."

If you'd like to test your forage or water quality, or have questions about testing results, please feel free to contact me at dmacon@ucanr.edu or (530) 889-7385. I can also provide you with a complete copy of our forage study results.

By Dan Macon
Author - Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor