Wildfire relief efforts in Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas Continue
Fires in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado have taken the lives of seven people, burned more than 1 million acres of range land, killed cattle and destroyed infrastructure including thousands of miles of fence.
April 14, 2017 - Author: Jerry Lindquist, and Kable Thurlow, Michigan State University Extension
Wildfires in early March swept across the plains in regions of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Ranchers in those devastated areas scrambled to protect their families, neighbors, livestock and homes. Winds gusting 50 to 80 miles per hour moved the flames almost as fast across the landscape. Smoke from the approaching firestorm turned day into night in a matter of minutes with swirling cinder, ash and smoke enveloping many while giving no clue how near the actual fire line may be. Seven ranchers and rescue volunteers tragically were killed by the event. Those surviving ranchers will now be battling for years to save their ranching livelihoods. The total devastation is still being tallied but the results at the current time are staggering.
Between one and two million acres of rangeland were burned in the center of one of our country’s most concentrated beef cow regions. Those pastures were just approaching their most productive period of the grazing year and are projected now to gradually recover over the next 6 - 18 months. Hay and other feed supplies were lost, equipment and sheds were burned. Thousands of beef cows and their calves, along with horses perished and many more were scorched by the flames to the point where they will never be productive again. Over 30 homes were burned to the ground along with farming infrastructure including thousands of miles of fence which is critical to managing livestock from overgrazing the surviving good pasture lands. The losses, which are now only being grossly estimated, are in the millions of dollars. Because the beef industry has fallen on tough economic times and because these western ranches are often asset rich owning thousands of acres of land along with hundreds of head of cattle, while being cash flow poor, they were not highly insured. Most of these losses will come directly from their pockets.
How can this region survive? Enter the American spirit of strangers helping out those less fortunate. Between March and April 2017, it is estimated that semi loads of hay and other essential supplies have arrived from each of the 48 contiguous states. The American farming industry and trucking industry has come up big in the effort to help. From Michigan, multiple semi loads of hay began arriving in week one of the disaster and continue taking weekly caravans of 10 - 20 trucks out there. They are shipping hay and almost any other supplies that will help and will fit on a trailer. To really gain an eye opening and emotional perspective of how magnificent the American response has been, go to Facebook and YouTube and search Great Plains Wildlife Relief. Include Michigan in the search if you want to feel proud of your fellow Michiganders.
The need for support will not end in the short term. Rebuilding will be taking place over the next few years and depending upon rainfall amounts, hay may be needed over the next year or more. Below are a few guidelines to consider if you are planning to take supplies out to the devastated area:
All donated hay is appreciated but supplies of grassy, lower quality hays are growing and agronomically many of the surviving cows are now raising a calf, along with maybe an orphan calf to boot, so they need a higher feed quality hay with some alfalfa in it to better support the milking cow. Donors are advised to contact before departing the ranch or farm to deliver hay directly to make the process more efficient and avoid dropping hay – that may go unused and uncovered for months – at a central station. Hay coordinators are listed below for each area to call to locate a ranch that is still in need. All loads including hay must be properly secured and must meet the local state highway motor carrier division weight load limits. Many of the in-route states have been cooperative on allowing oversized loads but those grace periods are ending and tickets have been written.
Due to the remote locations of the fences, the common fencing material used is barbed wire. To make the fencing installations as efficient as possible the standard fence material that will provide a long useful life is 12.5 gauge barbed wire with either 2 or 4 barbed points that are 14 gauge wire points. Steel T posts are the common post used. They should be a minimum of 5.5 feet in length and be rated at 1.33 pounds per foot. Wood posts are also accepted and the wood should either be Osage Orange wood (not common in Michigan) or wood that has been treated with a preserving chemical with creosote being preferred. Wood posts should be at least a minimum of 4 inches in diameter and should be a minimum of 8 feet long.
The distance from Michigan to this region is over 1,100 miles on average, making the shipping cost to get these supplies there equal to or more than the value of the donated items. Groups hauling these items need support for fuel costs. It makes more economic sense to just donate dollars and let the agencies and officials in those areas purchase what is needed on their end. There are many organizations and groups collecting funds to do just that. Some of these Michigan organizations include:
- Various Michigan Farm Bureau county offices
- Chemical Bank and Tri-County Bank Branch offices in Michigan with checks made out to MI Ag Community Wildfire Relief Fund
- Michigan Dept. of Agriculture’s Go Fund Me page
- Many volunteer farm and trucking groups are coordinating the shipment of hay, milk replacer, and other needed supplies to the four impacted states. Search for them on Facebook and on YouTube under terms such as “Plains Wildfire Relief From Michigan”.