Acting in response to a directive from President Donald J. Trump, the USDA authorized emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands located in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas – the three states which were most heavily impacted by ongoing wildfires which began on March 6, 2017.
USDA Acting Deputy Secretary Michael L. Young issued a memorandum authorizing the emergency grazing of cattle by ranchers, who are facing the ruination of their herds due to lack of sufficient grazing land. The authorization is pursuant to appropriate restrictions and conservation measures, which can be found in the Acting Deputy Secretary’s memorandum.
“Ranchers are facing devastating conditions and economic calamity because of these wildfires and they need some relief, or else they face the total loss of their herds in many cases,” said Acting Deputy Secretary Young. “These measures will allow them to salvage what remains of their cattle and return to the important business of feeding Americans and the rest of the world. I commend and thank President Trump for acting decisively in response to this dire situation.”
The USDA action is required to direct the Farm Service Agency to permit the grazing on lands covered by the CRP, which exists to conserve and improve wildlife resources. In this case, the grazing will overlap with the primary nesting season of the lesser prairie chicken. CRP has procedures in place, already developed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to permit emergency grazing on protected lands during nesting season. Lesser prairie chicken nesting season runs in Texas from March 1 to June 1, in Kansas from April 15 to July 15, and in Oklahoma from May 1 to July 1.
Ranchers and farmers are only now able to begin to estimate losses, since the fires are still burning in some places and access to the lands to survey the damage has been limited. Damages in the states are expected to grow, but are now estimated as follows:
• Counties affected include Clark, Comanche, Ellis, Ellsworth, Ford, Hodgeman, Kiowa, Lane, Lincoln, Meade, Ness, Russell, and Seward.
• An estimated 630,000 acres burned, primarily pasturelands.
• Estimated livestock loss: between 3,000 and 9,000 head of cattle.
• Large volumes of hay and feed destroyed.
• Estimated cost of fencing destroyed exceeds $36 million.
• Counties affected include Beaver, Ellis, Harper, Roger Mills, Woodward, and Woods.
• An estimated 389,533 acres burned.
• Estimated livestock loss: 3,000 head of cattle.
• An estimated cost of structure loss of $2 million.
• Estimated cost of fencing destroyed exceeds $22 million.
• Counties affected include Armstrong, Carson, Collingsworth, Donley, Gray, Hansford, Hemphill, Hutchinson, Lipscomb, Moore, Ochiltree, Potter, Randall, Roberts, Sherman, and Wheeler.
• An estimated 550,000 acres burned, affecting 346 farms and ranches.
• Estimated livestock loss: at least 3,000 cattle and 1,900 swine.
• Thousands of miles of fences expected to be a total loss, but so far unable to be surveyed.