Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ike’s salty floods leach ranches of life

The two brothers are the sixth generation of their family to oversee one of the state’s oldest ranches, dating back to 1819. But Steven and Bill White could never have imagined their 60,000-acre spread in Chambers County would look the way it does, today. Patches of salt encrust the soil where rice should have been planted this month. Most of the pasture, which should be feeding 2,500 head of cattle, is so dead that thebrothers’boots crunch when they walk across it. “Look at that,” said Bill White, squatting to pick up dead baby crabs. Further proof, he noted, that for 12 days after Hurricane Ike’s surge, their ranch became part of the Gulf of Mexico. The water has receded eight miles back into the Gulf, but it left behind a salty residue that continues to threaten the ranchers and farmers who live in the surge zone east of Houston in Chambers, Jefferson and Orange counties. About 4,800 cows and 5,600 calves drowned in the three-county surge zone, the Farm Service Agency estimates. Bill Wilson, a rancher and farmer from Beaumont, lost more than half his herd in the Sept. 13 storm. His soybean fields also were underwater, and afterward his 16.000 acres looked like “somebody had sprayed it with Roundup,” he said. Most ranchers have had to relocate their herds as much as 400 miles outside the surge zone and pay for grazing rights ($15 each month per head). Others, including Ralph Leggett and Leroy Ezer in southern Chambers County, opted to sell their herds at discounted prices because they had nowhere to keep them. All the fences keeping cattle penned in the surge zone — 1,700 miles’ worth — had been blown down...Houston Chronicle

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