Ranchers look for government help after fires  



By Erin Hitchcock - Williams Lake Tribune

Published: September 21, 2010 8:00 AM

Ranchers hope the B.C. government will help assist them with forage and fence rehabilitation in the aftermath of the forest fires in the Cariboo Chilcotin.

Ranchers met with Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson and MLA Lana Popham, the Opposition critic for the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, last week to discuss the help they need.

Duncan Barnett, president of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association, says one of the biggest issues is forage and fence rehabilitation.

“Without those fences, ranchers have no ability to manage their livestock,” Duncan says, adding that not only does a loss of fencing cause herds to mix with each other, but it also causes forage issues. “You can’t manage the livestock so they use the forage properly.”

He says ranchers want the provincial government to help get the fences rebuilt, otherwise ranching businesses will be put at risk.

“They’ve lost a lot of their fall forage this year,” he says, adding that unless fences are replaced for next year, ranchers will face major problems.

He says there is emergency response funding in place, but it’s not yet known if the funding can be used to help the ranchers replace the lost fences.

“We basically have businesses that have lost the infrastructure that they need to operate, and if we can’t get it replaced, then obviously those businesses are in serious trouble.”

He says the government needs to either provide some funding to rebuild the range infrastructure that’s been lost or emergency/disaster relief funding needs to be used.

Ranchers are also dealing with lost forage that was burnt up in the forest fires. Not only does the grass need to be re-seeded so there is forage supply, but also so invasive weeds don’t move in.

Ranchers also have a number of suggestions for the future, he says, including using local people who can provide equipment and their knowledge of the area and dealing with fires when they start. Barnett says ranchers and the ministries of forest and environment also need to work together to ensure ecologically sound seeds that also suit the natural environment are planted.

Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett attended a meeting two weeks ago in Alexis Creek, where she met with ranchers to hear their concerns about the devastation caused from the fires.

“We are working on the analysis on what has happened to the fencing, the cattle, to the grasslands, all of those types of things,” she says. “We are working with the communities on a mitigation plan.”

She says she also went on a two- to three-hour tour to see the devastation for herself, and has also met with individuals throughout the Cariboo Chilcotin to discuss the forest fires and other issues.

Simpson and Popham, who had also met with the Ministry of Forests and Range in Williams Lake, said they will discuss the issues with the Minister of Agriculture.

“We heard (from ranchers) that the Minister of Agriculture needs to champion this,” Popham said. “We can make a push for that.”

Simpson said the loss of forage could be the last straw for ranchers already suffering challenges to the industry.

Alexis Creek resident and rancher Bev Madley is the president of the Chilcotin Stockmen’s Association, an organization that falls under the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association.

“Out here, there were seven members of our association that were affected by the wildfires,” Madley says. “In the run of all of these fires, we lost a lot of fence.”

She says the government has agreed to reseed and rehabilitate the CAT guards that were built on the ranges in the Bull Complex area.

She says the ranchers also want the fences replaced, soon.

“These are boundaries between people with different breeding programs,” she says, adding the fences also provide barriers between pastures that are rotated to keep the range in good condition.

She notes the firefighters did a good job, but says the management of the fires could have been done differently.

“Those fires were allowed to run, and they didn’t get anybody on them to put them out until they became quite large and quite dangerous and somewhat unmanageable,” she says.

If and when money is provided to replace the fences, she says ranches would like them built on large right-of-ways so there is exposed soil that would serve as fire breaks.

A meeting between the ranchers and government field officials was to be held at Madley’s home last night, after press deadlines.