Fire recovery meeting offered in Ashland

May 5, 2017

A burnt fence post hangs from barbed wire on the Giles Ranch near Ashland, April 5, 2017.
Credit Sandra J. Milburn / The Hutchinson News

Creating a fire response and recovery plan is the focus of a two-day meeting scheduled May 9-10 in Ashland as the region continues to regroup after a massive spring wildfire.

The workshop will be led by Ranching for Profit owner Dave Pratt, a well-known consultant whose thought-provoking style has helped hundreds of ranchers think through and plan for a more profitable future.

The meeting will be held at the local VFW building starting with registration at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 9. Farmers and ranchers are urged to register ahead of time with the K-State extension service offices in Clark or Comanche counties.

“We have scholarships available, provided by our sponsors, to cover the cost,” said Aaron Sawyers, the ag agent in Coldwater, Kansas. “This workshop would normally be $300 per person, so that’s a pretty good value.”

Pratt conducted a similar workshop following the disastrous blizzard that hit Western South Dakota in the fall of 2013, Sawyers said.

Pratt will cover short-term and long-term steps to recovery across a wide spectrum of issues from resource rebuilding to managing the financial and emotional impacts.

“He will make us think outside of the box about how to address specific needs,” Sawyers said. “Everyone’s situation will be different.”

Right now fencing remains the most pressing need — and the single biggest loss — associated with the fire, which consumed nearly half a million acres.

Some ranches in the area extend across 30,000 acres or more, which helps explain how vast the need is and why fencing crews can’t keep up with the demand.

“Some of these ranchers still don’t know what they have left out there,” Sawyers said.

John Klempa, a district forester based at Garden City, recently conducted a tree care workshop in Ashland. He noted that many windbreaks were lost. Proper pruning can help trees recover from an ice storm but not a fire.

“From what I’ve seen down there, the trees have been obliterated,” he said. “There’s quite a few windbreaks that are gone, but people aren’t even getting into that yet. They are still worried about getting fences and buildings put back up.”

Jeff Jaronek, who is coordinating donations for the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association Foundation, also said getting fences rebuilt will be the biggest challenge.

Donations raised by the OCA have exceeded $850,000, which sounds impressive, until you put it next to the cost of rebuilding thousands of miles of fence. “We have ranchers who each lost between 30 and 100 miles of fences,” Jaronek explained. “If you have $300,000, a rancher who lost 100 miles of fence could use every bit of that money, and that’s one person.”

The association has started to distribute funds and is also helping ranchers navigate federal regulations that cap the relief money they are entitled to receive.

With recovery under way, Jaronek was optimistic the region’s ranching industry will bounce back.

“All of these guys are planning to rebuild,” he said. “The crowns on the grass are still good. I think we’ll be surprised. I think this range will come back better than it’s ever been.”