The early March Plains wildfire burned millions of acres, devastating rural communities and ranching families in its wake. While fundraisers and donations of hay and other resources have been numerous, ranchers who have been impacted are still struggling to figure out where their herds can spend the spring and summer grazing months now that their forage supplies have been destroyed.
To address this issue, the USDA announced on April 4 the authorization for emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands located in the three states most impacted by the blaze — Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
The announcement is in response to a directive from President Donald Trump, and USDA Acting Deputy Secretary Michael Young issued a memorandum authorizing the emergency grazing of cattle due to lack of sufficient grazing land because of the fire.
In the memorandum, Young wrote, “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. 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.”
Ranchers will need to work directly with their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) to gain access to these grounds. Of some concern is this grazing overlaps with the primary nesting season of the lesser prairie chicken; however, the CRP rules, which were developed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, do allow for grazing on protected lands during nesting season in emergency situations like this one.
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.
“Accordingly, with respect to CRP acreage under conservation practices CPl, CP2, CP4, CPlO, CP18, and CP38, that may also contain habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken, FSA will now allow emergency grazing if performed outside the Primary Nesting Season. FSA will also allow emergency grazing during PNS on this CRP acreage only if no grazing has occurred in the prior two years on such acreage,” said Young in the memorandum.
To date, the USDA reports that in Kansas, 630,000 acres burned with 3,000-9,000 head of cattle killed and $36 million in fencing destroyed. In Oklahoma, 389,533 acres burned, with 3,000 head of cattle killed, $2 million in structures lost, and $22 million worth of fencing destroyed. In Texas, 550,000 acres burned, impacting 346 farms and ranches. At least 3,000 cattle and 1,900 hogs were killed in the Texas fire, and thousands of miles of fences will need to be replaced.
Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, today released the following statement in response to USDA’s authorization of emergency grazing on CRP lands in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas:
“President Trump, the USDA, and Governors Brownback, Fallin, and Abbott deserve a great deal of credit for moving swiftly to open these lands to grazing so that many of the cattle producers who were dramatically impacted by last month’s wildfires can feed their herds. Those devastating wildfires burned more than 1.5 million acres in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas and killed an estimated 9,000 – 18,000 cattle. Those cattle can’t be replaced, but today’s action will help ranchers salvage what remains of their herds.”
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.