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Fires, floods in the West

Cattle and Beef Industry News
Sep 8, 2017

Cattle losses appear minimal in disasters

Men load small hay bales onto an airboat to take to cattle stranded by flooding from Hurricane Harvey.
Photo by Coleman Locke; used with permission

Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas late last month while fires, many of which started in July, continue to burn in western states. In Montana alone, more than 1 million acres have burned while additional fires are burning in California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming.

Although damage assessments are ongoing and numerous photos show damage to land and houses, cattle deaths appear to be minimal.

In Texas, Coleman Locke— whose family owns J.D. Hugins, Inc., near Wharton, TX, about 120 miles north of the eye of Harvey— said, while he doesn’t have hard numbers, only some cattle were lost in his area. He added, “We are just relatively unscathed as far as our cattle went, as far as death losses.” He noted most of the damage in his area is from flooding, and not from the strong winds associated with the storm.

Although pastures and hay fields were flooded, Locke told WLJ his family has other relatives in the hay business who could provide the necessary feed for cattle. Although hay was available, he said they had to feed with small square bales, delivered by air boats for a few days before water receded enough to get in with tracked vehicles to deliver large round bales.

The task then became centered on getting cattle back home and separated. Locke said they had cattle representing six owners mixed together, but added, “The saving grace is they [owners] were all family.”

Noting that fences were also damaged, WLJ asked where ranchers begin with their restoration efforts. “One post at a time,” was Locke’s response.

Locke also serves as chairman of the Texas Animal Health Commission but said he has not had time to consult with the commission regarding missing or dead cattle because of efforts to secure his own animals, noting he had spent 14 hours the day before talking to WLJ separating cattle. He said, “I know there are cattle missing and some of them may turn up because cattle do funny things in a flood. They may have swum somewhere else.”

As the water recedes in Texas, cattle will need to be monitored for health issues. Locke said they had already treated some animals for hoof problems and others showed signs of cuts where they had likely been forced into fences. “We’re observing and treating whatever comes up,” he told WLJ.

Looking to additional recovery efforts and acknowledging a long “to-do” list remains, Locke said, “We’re on the downhill slope now, everything is going to be fine. One of these days we will be back to normal—if there is such a thing.” And in true Texas cowboy style, he added, “There are a lot of people hit worse than we were, and we feel blessed to have come through it as well as we did.”

Montana fires

Although there are fires burning throughout the West, WLJ talked with a cattle producer in Montana last week. The focus on one fire and one producer does not minimize the impact of fires in other areas, but is meant to provide a snapshot of current conditions.

The East Fork Fire, which started Aug. 27, was upgraded on Sept. 3 to Type 1 incident. A Type 1 status is the considered the most complex and will have a large number of personnel and equipment assigned to it. The fire is on private lands in Blaine County, Hill County, and on the Rocky Boy Reservation, south of Havre, MT. The state of Montana also has land within the fire area as well as a small piece of BLM land.

Helping to coordinate local relief efforts is Margo Pankratz who, with her husband Clinton, ranch near the East Fork Fire. She is leading efforts to provide assistance to area ranchers who will need help in recovering. In order to help maintain accountability of donations, a fund has been established through the Montana Stockgrowers Association Foundation. Pankratz told WLJ the money will be used to help producers with rebuilding, “Whether the cost is fencing, water tanks, hay, whatever the producers may need in relation to their livestock operation.”

Talking about cattle losses, Pankratz said there have been some. She said there have been reports from one family that lost 22 head; another ranch is continuing to search for 50 head that are missing.

She went on to say in relation to this specific fire, that there are at least 14 families directly impacted in terms of lost grass. She noted that other families will be indirectly impacted because of lost grazing leases.

When the fire broke out, local ranchers, including Clinton, stepped up to do what they could to fight it until trained fire teams arrived. “It’s incredible what these guys did with little or no sleep and no formal firefighting training. No lives were lost,” Pankratz said.

With the community coming together to fight the fire, Panskatz said those who weren’t on the fire line were busy putting together food and care packages for firefighters. In addition, family and workers busily gathered cattle in preparation for possible evacuations.

A complete list of current forest fires including status and outlook is available online at https://inciweb.nwcg.gov.

As of press time, this fire was 85 percent contained and was not expected to spread. As other fires rage across Montana, the weather outlook for moisture remains slim. Pankrantz commented on the dry outlook saying, “The fire danger is very real and until we get snow, it’s not going to go away.” — Rae Price, WLJ editor

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