Oklahoma farmers and ranchers work to recover from wildfires
By KRISTIN DANLEY-GREINER
Blackened, scorched ground stretches for miles across Oklahoma, which was littered with hundreds of deceased cattle killed by the wind-drive wildfires that sparked in mid-April. The state’s severe drought conditions did not help the situation any.
More than 350,000 acres of formerly lush pasture ground has been wiped out, limiting feed options for cattle producers in a state that’s fifth in the nation for cattle production.
Several wildfires swept across the state, including the devastating Rhea Fire. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin issued a state of emergency for 52 counties because of the wildfires. Rod Hall, Oklahoma’s state veterinarian, pegged cattle deaths at approximately 1,100, but believes that number could climb to 2,000. Some of the livestock died as a direct cause from the fires while others had to be euthanized because of injuries sustained during the wild fires and smoke inhalation.
The biggest need for Oklahoma producers right now is hay to feed surviving cattle and fencing to replace what burned up.
Dustin Miekle with the Oklahoma Farm Bureau confirmed that as of April 25, the Rhea fire was considered 99 percent contained and the Oklahoma Forestry Service was resuming control of it. Solid rainfall the last weekend of April helped alleviate the situation. But farmers and ranchers are reeling from this disaster.
“The overall loss for the industry is going to be mainly in lost grass for immediate grazing needs and in fencing. There have been structural losses, as well, on farms and ranches. We have seen an outpouring of support from farmers and ranchers across the nation in terms of hay donations for the short-term. In the long-term, we know from direct experience with last year’s fires that the impact on fencing is huge,” Miekle said.
Miekle said the overall market impact from the loss of 2,000 head should be minimal, considering Oklahoma is home to two million head of beef cows. But the individual impact on farmers is considerable. Three organizations within the state are helping spearhead relief efforts, Miekle said, including the Oklahoma Farming & Ranching Foundation, The Oklahoma Cattlemen’s’ Foundation Wildfire Relief Fund and the Oklahoma Farmers Union Foundation.
Ed Frank, senior director of policy communications for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said his group teamed up with the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association to pen a letter inviting President Trump and Vice President Pence to view the devastation in person.
“In addition to the daily stress and anxiety caused by the wildfires, cattlemen and rural communities have suffered extensive financial losses, including homes, cattle, ranch equipment, and fencing. Given the severity of the situation, we would like to extend an invitation for you both to visit the affected areas, meet with producers who have suffered losses, and see what help can be given to these great Americans,” the letter said.
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