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Trump Opens Up Conservation Land for Fire-Devastated Ranchers

  • About 1.6 million acres have been burned, USDA estimates
  • Wildfires have destroyed parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration issued an emergency order that will allow cattle and livestock to graze on Conservation Reserve Program lands after last month’s devastating wildfires.

About 1.6 million acres of grazing land has been destroyed in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas since March 6 when the fires erupted, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in an emailed statement on Tuesday. More than 15,000 cattle may have been lost so far, and fires “are still burning in some places,” it said.

Former President Ronald Reagan started the CRP program in 1985 to limit soil erosion and the risk of displacing threatened species. It pays farmers an annual rent to not use land that is set aside for conservation. Steady rains the last few weeks may have improved the quality of the grass just as the lands are opened up to the livestock of beleaguered ranchers.

“Since we’ve had some rain here it could help boost that CRP land and help feed” the cattle, Todd Domer, vice president of communications at the Kansas Livestock Association in Topeka, said in a telephone interview.

About 69 percent of the southern Great Plains was wetter than normal the past 30 days since the wildfires. That’s the most for early April in at least five years and will aid crop development, T-Storm Weather LLC in Chicago said in a note Tuesday. 

Natural Disaster

Some fields from west Texas to Nebraska got more than four times the normal rain in the past 30 days, data from the National Weather Service show. That rain will produce very good growth on native pastures burned by wildfires in early March, Darrell Holoday, president of Advanced Market Concepts in Wamego, Kansas, said in a phone interview Monday. 

“The widespread and abundant rain is the best thing that could have happened to fire-damaged pastures,” Holoday said. “The grass is very tough and it will come back better than it was before the fire.”

The USDA estimates about $60 million in damages so far in Kansas and Oklahoma.

In Texas, the USDA said “thousands of miles of fences are expected to be a total loss,” but haven’t yet been surveyed. Some 1,900 swine may also have been destroyed there, it said. The agency expects damages to increase in all three states.

“It’s right there at the top of natural disasters for our members over the years,” Domer said. “It’s going to take a long time for these folks to get back to any semblance of normal.”

— With assistance by Jeff Wilson

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