Ranchers struggle with forest fire aftermath

District 3 Supervisor Woody Cline addresses the Gila County Cattle Growers Association on Sept. 16. Cline states that Gila County is 110 percent behind the Cattle Growers and sympathizes with their recent loses due to devastating wildfires. Permittees are left picking up the pieces and searching for aid after recent fires burned up over 280,000 acres of land along with miles of fencing, pipeline and grazing lands.

Emotions ran high during a Sept. 16 Gila County Cattle Growers Association meeting, where a group of ranchers discussed funding and resources available pertaining to post fire rehab. Gila County’s 2020 forest fires have burned up 288,048 acres of land along with miles of fencing, piping, gates, guard rails, and necessary vegetation. Grazing lands that will not be growing back anytime soon have left local ranchers in a rough predicament.

USFS Range Program Manager Chandler Mundy, who attended the meeting remotely, assured permit holders that the forest service was working to obtain the needed BAER funding to aid in rebuilding. Mundy stated that they have requested $543,000 in funding to help build back infrastructure materials like fencing and pipeline. The requested funding would only cover a small portion of what ranchers have lost due to the fires, and wouldn’t provide the labor needed to rebuild.

“We are in a worse position than last year following Woodbury,” said Mundy. “We’ve had essentially no monsoons and are headed for a dryer than unusual winter.” Ranchers were still dealing with the aftermath of last year’s Woodbury Fire, that burned up 123,875 acres, when this year’s wildfires devastated ranching communities.

Mundy went on to say that the forest service would essentially be requesting more money to help with post fire rehab.

Dave Womack from the NRCS, also attended the meeting remotely, and discussed the process for projects and qualifying for funding cycles. The USDA National Resources Conservation Service  (NRCS) provides agricultural producers with technical conservation planning assistance and financial assistance to voluntarily put conservation on the ground and solve natural resource concerns. According to Womack, conservation planning on range and forest land where ranchers graze livestock most commonly takes the form of assisting a rancher to improve condition of soil, water, air, plant, and animal natural resource concerns through improved grazing management. “Ranchers can submit an application for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and if awarded an EQIP contract can be reimbursed after they replace conservation practices such as interior cross fences and water developments destroyed by recent wildfires,” said Womack.

Shelby Johnson from the USDA Farm Service Agency discussed some of the sources of funding and available programs through the Emergency Conservation Program. According to Johnson the ECP program can assist with rebuilding damaged/destroyed infrastructure from a natural disaster and has a $200,000 program payment limit. The payment rates are based on current NRCS Cost Share rates.

Johnson also went over the Livestock Indemnity Program. LIP is used to assist producers with livestock deaths due to disaster. Producers can be paid on losses in excess of normal mortality.

Ranchers suffering grazing losses on lands located within a county having a qualifying drought designation will be eligible for the Livestock Forage Disaster Program. Payments are based upon the cost of the amount of corn necessary to supply an animal’s energy needs for 30 calendar days.

Based on the U.S. Drought Monitor D3 Extreme rating, Gila County is also eligible for assistance with water hauling.

State Representative David Cook was in attendance to show both support and offer aid to local ranchers. Cook expressed his concern for permittees to the Arizona Silver Belt. “I have asked Rep. Mark Finchem to join me in asking the attorney general’s office to look into the ability for the state and federal land ranchers to apply for the Burned Area Emergency Fund dollars for the replacement of infrastructure that has been lost due to fires. Since then the U.S. Forest Service has now committed funds for just such cases. We will continue to work with all agencies both state and federal to ensure that Arizona taxpayers and our rural communities aren’t left on the hook or forgotten.”

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