Support continues for areas suffering from wildfires
By Kylene Scott
Western firefighters are working to contain a number of wildfires in many states, and drought warnings continue to plague many areas. Welcome rains fell across the High Plains July 8 and 9.
Agriculture is not immune to the threat of wildfire and the after effects of drought. There have been warnings posted by a number of agricultural groups following the late June and early July Colorado wildfires, including where to send help and suggestions for producers facing the continued danger of wildfires.
Following the recent fires, the Colorado Farm Bureau activated the Last Chance Fire Fund. The CFB said farmers and ranchers in the Last Chance area took a huge blow as the fire started right in the middle of wheat harvest. The amount of cattle lost due to the smoke and flames was significant.
Fundraising efforts have begun to benefit those who were affected by the fire. Washington County Farm Bureau is accepting donations until July 31. Send donation checks made out to Washington County Farm Bureau to: Last Chance Fire Fund, 33461 Co. Rd. 46, Otis, CO 80743. Victims of the fire can download an application from www.coloradofarmbureau.com.
The support for the victims of the Heartstrong Fire was amazing, and CFB hopes friends and neighbors will do the same for the victims of the Last Chance Fire.
Colorado Farm Bureau has also begun to help farmers and ranchers in need by opening the CFB Hay Exchange. The exchange is an attempt to link people who have hay or pasture with the farmers and ranchers who need it the most. See the CFB website for more information.
Land affected by recent fires may also face severe erosion and flooding issues; it is required that mulch used on public lands be certified "weed-free." The Colorado Department of Agriculture reminds wheat and barley producers that, in order to provide certified weed-free mulch, the crop must be inspected by CDA before it is harvested.
"Mulch is the most economical way to provide cover and prevent erosion; it is estimated that as much as 11,000 tons of mulch may be needed to protect the land affected by the High Park Fire alone," said Don Gallegos, CDA coordinator of the Certified Weed-Free Forage Program. "Colorado has had an early harvest and we hope that there is enough straw from the wheat and barley harvests this year to meet the demand brought about by these fires."
To participate in the state's weed-free program, growers must contact the Colorado Department of Agriculture for an inspection prior to harvest. The inspection ensures that there are no propagative plant parts of noxious weeds. Once the crop is certified weed-free, producers will be added to a directory. Counties, contractors and other buyers will then have access to the directory through CDA's website and direct mailing.
The use of certified weed-free forage and mulch is intended to reduce the spread of weeds on public lands and parks. Noxious weeds harm native plant communities and wildlife habitat, reduce crop yields and land values, damage watersheds, increase soil erosion and poison animals.
Contact the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Certified Weed-Free Forage Program, at 303-239-4149 for additional information or to setup an inspection.
On July 2, Gov. Dave Heineman declared a state of emergency due to current drought conditions throughout the state. Heineman authorized an emergency declaration for statewide drought that allows state personnel and resources to assist with emergency situations and prevention, and allows maximum flexibility to the state to deploy Nebraska National Guard and Nebraska Emergency Management Agency assets and resources as needed.
"This declaration is important for continued efforts of state officials to ensure the safety of Nebraskans," Heineman said. "This action is necessary as dry conditions are presenting an imminent threat to the ability of local governments to respond to drought conditions. Additionally, actions such as haying along the roadsides in Nebraska help with drought conditions."
Additionally, the governor has directed the Nebraska Department of Roads to advance the starting date for roadside haying from July 15 to July 3 in the following 55 counties: Adams, Arthur, Banner, Blaine, Boyd, Box Butte, Brown, Chase, Cherry, Cheyenne, Custer, Dawes, Dawson, Deuel, Dundy, Franklin, Furnas, Frontier, Gage, Garden, Garfield, Gosper, Grant, Greeley, Harlan, Hayes, Hitchcock, Holt, Hooker, Howard, Jefferson, Kearney, Keith, Keya Paha, Kimball, Lincoln, Logan, Loup, McPherson, Morrill, Nuckolls, Pawnee, Perkins, Phelps, Red Willow, Richardson, Rock, Scotts Bluff, Sheridan, Sherman, Sioux, Thayer, Thomas, Valley, and Webster.
The governor and the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency will continue to monitor the situation throughout the state, as the drought continues.
The Nebraska Cattlemen reiterated the importance of emergency haying in their areas and appreciate the continued efforts of state and federal officials in working to allow greater flexibility in haying and grazing options during drought conditions.
The group said in a news release that the additional counties eligible for emergency grazing of CRP lands will go a long way in making sure cattlemen have the opportunity to harvest these forages while they retain value.
Nebraska Cattlemen encouraged landowners to reach out to their local FSA office early so that the necessary paperwork can be completed as quickly as possible.
"Landowners must request written approval from their local FSA office and obtain a modified conservation plan from the NRCS prior to grazing the lands," the release stated. "CRP acreage released for emergency grazing can be used for a landowner's own livestock or they may grant another livestock producer use of the CRP acreage."
The additional 13 counties made available by Heineman for immediate roadside haying in Nebraska will make a difference during these dry conditions as well. Like CRP, counties will continue to become eligible for early roadside haying and all counties will be open to this practice after July 15.
Nebraska Cattlemen supports landowners' taking advantage of this opportunity for early roadside haying. Permits to conduct roadside haying must be applied for through the Nebraska Department of Roads.
For more information on the current drought, go to www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu.
The U.S. Forest Service, Department of the Interior, Department of Defense and FEMA continue to support efforts to protect life, public safety and aid in community recovery from wildfires in multiple Western states. On June 28, President Barack Obama approved a disaster declaration for Colorado providing additional support to state and local officials responding to the fires, as well as federal assistance for individuals affected by the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires.
On July 3, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Fire Administrator Chief Ernest Mitchell visited Colorado and Idaho to survey ongoing wildfire response efforts on the ground, thank first responders battling the fires, meet with state and local officials and underscore the administration's support for impacted communities.
"DHS and FEMA are working closely with our federal partners including the Forest Service, the Department of Interior and the Department of Defense, to support state and local efforts," said Secretary Napolitano. "Our first priority remains public safety--and that means ensuring that people are out of harm's way. Those residents in the impacted areas should continue to listen to local authorities and follow their guidance and instructions."
"Today I saw the tireless efforts of our nation's firefighters, first responders and volunteers as they protected and supported those affected by wildfires in the West," said Vilsack. "Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones and homes and we continue to honor the memories of heroes who have sacrificed so much to keep fellow Americans out of harm's way. The Forest Service will continue to work with local, state and other federal partners to supply the resources needed to contain these fires."
In Colorado, Napolitano and Vilsack, and Mitchell met with federal, state and local firefighters and volunteers and surveyed affected areas.
As of early July 6, DoD aircraft have conducted 140 air drops and discharged more than 332,400 gallons of retardant. C-130 MAFFS efforts recently were centered on the Squirrel Creek Fire, three miles west of Woods Landing, Wyo. On July 5, the MAFFS C-130 aircraft conducted a total of three air drops, flying nearly 3 hours and discharged approximately 8,500 gallons of retardant.
Currently, 21 large airtankers, including six MAFFS-equipped C-130s, as well as 71 Single Engine Air Tankers are available nationally to combat fires burning in a number of Western states. More than 11,100 personnel, more than 620 fire engines and more than 100 helicopters are also fighting wildfires around the U.S., supporting state and local efforts.
As federal partners continue to support state and local officials battling the Waldo Canyon fire with more than 400 federal, state and local firefighters, 16 fire engines and three helicopters July 6 fighting the fire in the hillsides west of Colorado Springs, the U.S. Forest Service reported that as the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado was 95 percent contained after burning more than 18,000 acres west of Colorado Springs and destroying over 300 homes. Officials expect the fire to be fully contained in a few days as some firefighters and suppression resources are being redirected to other fires in the West.
In Colorado, Vilsack has designated all counties as primary Secretarially designated natural disaster counties, except Delta and San Juan, which are contiguous disaster counties, due to the damage caused by drought, excessive heat, and high winds. This designation makes all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency, provided that eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses.
The major disaster declaration for Colorado, approved by Obama June 29, makes federal funding available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, for El Paso and Larimer counties impacted by the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires. Federal funding is also available for Crisis Counseling and Disaster Unemployment Assistance for affected individuals in El Paso and Larimer Counties impacted by the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires. Additional forms of assistance may be designated as part of the disaster declaration once joint federal, state and local damage assessments are fully completed.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior, in partnerships with states and local agencies, have developed a cohesive strategy to respond to the increase in wildfires in recent years by focusing on:
--Restoring and maintaining resilient landscapes. Through forest and rangeland restoration activities such as mechanical thinning and controlled burns, officials can make forests and rangelands healthier and less susceptible to catastrophic fire.
--Creating fire-adapted communities. The Forest Service, the Department of the Interior and their partners are working with communities to reduce fire hazards around houses to make them more resistant to wildfire threats.
--Responding to wildfires. This element considers the full spectrum of fire management activities and recognizes the differences in missions among local, state, tribal and federal agencies.
Federal land managers are also helping communities prepare for wildfire. Federal partnerships with state, tribal and local agencies strengthen preparedness programs, such as Firewise at www.firewise.org and Ready Set Go! at www.iafc.org/readySetGo, which help families and communities prepare for and survive wildfire. You can also visit FEMA's www.ready.gov to learn more about steps you and your family can take now to be prepared for an emergency.
Kylene Scott can be reached by phone at 620-227-1804, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.