Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas: Flourishing after Flames
On March 6, 2017, farmers and ranchers in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas desperately watched as wildfires raged across the Great Plains consuming almost 2 million acres of agricultural land, livestock, and equipment.
Helping hands from members of the agricultural community, in addition to some fortunate weather, ultimately tamed the flames, but in the ash, things still looked grim.
The March conditions were conducive to the tragedy as long dead grasses gave kindling for larger obstacles and structures. The windy nature of spring in the south also helped move the fire along three ranches who saw the most damage. The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management reports the Starbuck Ranch Fire, which spans Oklahoma and Kansas, suffering the most damage with 715,484 acres devoured followed by the 283 Fire with 71,168 and the Selman Fire with 47,289. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service approximates the Texas Panhandle suffered a loss of almost 500,000 acres and $21 million in damages.
In addition to land and livestock, the fires claimed the lives of at least seven individuals involved with fire relief efforts over the course of the tragedy.
Things have since taken a turn for the better according to Tom Fanning, manager of Buffalo Feeders, a large cattle feedlot in northwestern Oklahoma. Fanning says the rains that swept through the states in April and May have covered the once charred soil with new grass, reporting some ranches being 50 percent to 70 percent (back to normal). Amarillo, Texas reported record breaking rainfall as well, breaking a 47-year-old record for March precipitation.
Lane Broadbent, president of KIS Futures in Kansas City, said the most expensive problem affecting ranches in the aftermath is simply replacing the hundreds of miles of fencing.
In Harper County, Kansas, one of 20 affected by the fires, government officials submitted a request for $5 million to help offset the losses. There is no word whether this request has seen results. While government programs are sending aid, in some cases, like this one, the funds still have not arrived.
News coverage rallied the agricultural community together as individuals, companies, and producers from across the midwest donated bales of hay, food, fence posts, and barbed wire. Relief deliveries came from across America spanning Colorado to Michigan with facebook groups added even more pins to the map. For Great Plains farmers and ranchers, there was no greater sight.
The US Department of Agriculture has stepped in to help those affected by this tragedy by providing disaster assistance programs according to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. With thousands of miles of fencing consumed in the blaze, ranchers face a time consuming and costly decision when it comes to rebuilding. However, the cost of replacement could be covered under the USDA’s Emergency Conservation Program. Ranchers can also submit a request to use federal conservation land for grazing till pastures heal.