Wednesday, November 25, 2015

2015 Brings Fewer Fires but More Damage to Ranchers in West

Wildfires have ravaged the drought-stricken Western U.S. this year, causing millions of dollars in damage and impacting the livelihoods of American ranchers. This past year of fires has been the second worst in a decade, ranking just behind the devastation of 2006 by just few thousand acres. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, fires from Jan. 1 to Oct. 30, 2015, have wiped out 9,407,571 acres of grazing land and forest. That’s equivalent to the landmass of New Hampshire and Connecticut combined and almost triple the damage seen in 2014 despite the fact that there actually have been fewer fires than normal in 2015. But the fires that have happened this year have been disastrous. The Soda Fire in southwest Idaho was one of the worst after it started on Aug. 10 when lightning struck. Nearly 280,000 acres, mainly Bureau of Land Management grazing land and some private property, was scorched black. An estimated 250 cattle were lost in the Soda Fire. These types of wildfires are becoming more commonplace, says Wyatt Prescott, executive vice president of the Idaho Cattlemen’s Association. These disasters also takes a toll on ranchers who have to find a way to feed their cattle immediately after the fire and impacts them for years to come. “Moving forward, ranchers will be chasing pasture all over the West trying to find enough to get them through until they get back on their range permits,” Prescott says. For public land grazers, that wait after a fire tends to be two years. During that time, the fuel load of brush undergrowth and grass makes the land just as susceptible another large fire. “From the cattle industry's perspective, it is just such a waste and shame that we see these catastrophic wildfires,” Prescott says. He adds that ranchers could utilize those resources by putting more cows on those at-risk lands...more

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