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Recovery efforts underway as wildfires continue to burn

Senator Pat Roberts Kansas Wildfire
Estimated 3,000-9,000 head of cattle have perished in Clark County, Kan.

Wildfires continue to burn as families, farmers, ranchers, businesses and state agencies assess damage and losses in areas ravaged by the flames last week. An estimated 1.5 million acres have burned in Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado, prompting massive aid and recovery efforts within the states and all across the nation.

The governors of Texas, Kansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma have sent a joint letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency requesting an immediate temporary suspension of grazing restrictions in the Conservation Reserve Program.

“Livestock producers in our states are experiencing grazing land shortages due to ongoing wildfires. Combined, more than 1.5 million acres have burned in the past week,” the governors wrote. “While damage assessments and economic losses are still being calculated, daily operations have ceased as farmers and ranchers work to remove livestock from harm’s way and find new grazing pastures. ... The sooner the program is implemented, the faster the livestock industries in our states can begin to rebuild from this devastating event.”

Kansas. U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) surveyed the damage last Friday after holding a meeting the prior day with Vice President Mike Pence to brief him “on the unprecedented amount of destruction Kansans have suffered, especially our farmers and ranchers in Clark County,” Roberts said. “Today, I am seeing the damage for myself in Englewood and Ashland. It tears at your heartstrings to meet with people who have lost their homes, ranches and farms. To see one of the most picturesque Kansas landscapes turn to black and dust is jolting.”

He reassured farmers and ranchers that federal help would be available for many who suffered total losses of homes, property and livestock.

In Clark County, Kan., alone, officials estimate 3,000-9,000 head of cattle are dead, requiring a huge environmental and health cleanup effort. Clark County was hardest hit by the windblown fires, with more than 85% of land in the county consumed. More than 861 square miles of land burned in Comanche and Clark counties, while fires burned in a total of 23 counties during this period. The previous record fire was last year’s Anderson Creek Fire, which burned 488 square miles.

“I have been in contact with producer groups in Kansas, such as the Kansas Livestock Assn. and Kansas Farm Bureau, who, along with state agencies, have been leading in the volunteer relief effort,” Roberts said. “I commend them for their efforts in collecting hay for cattle as well as monetary donations and volunteer coordination for repairs to property and fencing across the impacted area.”

The Kansas Livestock Assn. is accepting monetary donations to disperse to those needing aid. Information on donating can be found at www.kla.org/donationform.aspx.

Texas. The Texas Cattle Feeders Assn. (TCFA) recently reported that while the number of cattle deaths in the state is unknown, more than 5,000 head have been displaced and are in immediate need of hay/feed supplies. TCFA spokeswoman Jayce Winters told the Associated Press that preliminary counts indicate that about 1,500 cattle were killed in the fires, but a more precise accounting could be days or weeks away.

Texas & Southwest Cattle Raiser Assn. (TSCRA) said Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, which is overseeing the livestock supply points, reported March 13 that it now has an ample supply of hay and feed to meet ranchers' needs for the next two to three weeks.

“If you're loaded or on the way, you're still more than welcome, but if you're still in the planning stages, please give them a call first,” TSCRA said.

Texas Agriculture commissioner Sid Miller joined Texans everywhere in offering prayers and support for citizens in the Panhandle who have been affected by wildfires.

“This is an awful natural disaster, and so many of our friends have lost livestock, feed, equipment, homes and, in some very sad cases, even their lives,” Miller said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with those families, and here at the Texas Department of Agriculture, we are doing all we can to help those who’ve been affected by this disaster. I’d like to personally express my condolences to the families who have lost loved ones. Your friends and neighbors in agriculture are praying for you.”

The State of Texas Agriculture Relief Fund (STAR Fund) is currently accepting donations to be used toward recovery and rebuilding. To donate, click here.

“Farmers and ranchers know we can’t control Mother Nature, but we can offer a hand to those in need,” Miller said. “I ask all Texans who have the means to assist their neighbors by making a contribution to the STAR Fund. Our neighbors sure thank you, and I thank you as well.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster March 11 in the following counties: Gray, Hemphill, Lipscomb, Ochiltree, Roberts and Wheeler. In addition to the disaster declaration, the state of Texas has asked USDA for a Secretarial Disaster Designation to activate the USDA Farm Service Agency's Emergency Loan Program to help eligible farmers and ranchers rebuild and recover from losses sustained by the wildfires.

“This week’s wildfires have had a devastating impact on a significant portion of the Texas Panhandle. Texans have always been resilient in their response to disasters, and this time will be no different,” Abbott said, adding a thanks to "the first responders who are working tirelessly to help all those affected, and we continue to ask that all Texans keep the Panhandle community and the families of the victims of this disaster in their thoughts and prayers.”

Both Abbott and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback eased the state's motor carrier laws to help expedite deliveries of relief supplies to farmers and ranchers affected.

Oklahoma. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin also recently issued an executive order to declare a state of emergency for 22 counties due to ongoing wildfires and critical fire weather conditions.

The counties included in the governor’s declaration were: Alfalfa, Beaver, Blaine, Cimarron, Custer, Dewey, Ellis, Garfield, Grant, Harper, Kay, Kingfisher, Logan, Major, Noble, Osage, Payne, Pawnee, Roger Mills, Texas, Woods and Woodward, Okla.

A relief fund has been established by the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Foundation (OCF), a charitable arm of the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Assn., to receive monetary donations for Oklahoma producers. Visit www.okcattlemen.org/firerelieffund.aspx to donate.

"When unfortunate situations happen, it is humbling to see how generous folks can be to help those who are in need and we are happy to provide a place for those funds to be held," Jeff Jaronek, coordinator of OFC, said. "We will coordinate with the extension offices in each county to organize relief efforts in the area and to identify ranchers that are in need."

Colorado. The wildfires that broke out over northeastern Colorado last week burned nearly 30,000 acres, affecting the agricultural communities in Logan and Phillips counties.

"These people are going to need help," Kent Kokes, past president of the Northeast Colorado Cattlemen's Assn., said. "There was a lot of loss. Not only did people lose their homes, but ranchers have lost their livestock, infrastructures and equipment. There is so much dust and dirt in the area that plows are shoveling it off the roads like snow.”

The Colorado Farm Bureau activated its Colorado Farm Bureau Foundation Disaster Relief Fund to accept monetary donations at https://www.coloradofarmbureau.com/disasterfund.

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