Clark County ranchers could receive more than $18 million in federal program funds for fencing lost in the Starbuck wildfire - not quite half the cost of the estimated damage.
All told, ranchers lost 4,100 miles of fencing from the fire that started March 6, worth $41 million. A mile of fence, with labor, costs about $10,000 to replace.
Carla Wikoff, agriculture program specialist with the Kansas Farm Service Agency, said that about 18 or 19 counties requested roughly $24.5 million through the federal Emergency Conservation Program. The state received the funding from Washington for the majority of the counties several weeks ago.
That is, except for Clark County, the hardest hit area from the wildfires with more than two-thirds of county burned.
Only half of its requested $18 million was received at that time, because of budget shortfalls, but the rest of the funds came in last week, Wikoff said.
“We got all the funding, now counties are working on getting those applications approved,” she said.
The Emergency Conservation Program, or ECP, provides up to 75 percent of the cost to repair damage caused by natural disasters. That includes flooding, drought and wildfires. However, funding is capped at $200,000 per person or entity, per disaster.
Wikoff said ranchers have a year to complete the paperwork and can get an extension if the project isn’t completed by then.
Kansas ranchers have been busy all spring and summer making repairs after wildfires swept through the state in early March. Since March 17, the Kansas Department of Revenue has received more than 155 sales tax exemption requests from ranchers to help rebuild the thousands of miles of burned and damaged fence.
Those exemptions cover about $14.7 million in expenses for fencing, such as clips, posts and wire. The exemptions result in $955,500 in sales tax not received by the state, according to the revenue department.
The state also received 49 fence refunds on purchases made before the tax break was sought, worth $33,159.
In March, Gov. Sam Brownback signed fast-tracked legislation to help farmers and ranchers repair or construct fencing on rural property after both the wildfires that struck Kansas in 2016 and 2017.
The state offered a sales tax rebate in 2016 for those affected by wildfires in Barber and Comanche counties. Nine exemptions were filed in 2016. To make the sales tax break more user-friendly, the Legislature this year allowed people to apply for a sales tax exemption certificate to use at the point of sale, as an alternative to the rebate.
Also, this year’s legislation allows those still recovering from the 2016 fires to continue to qualify for a sales tax exemption.
All told, Kansas had more than 711,000 acres burned in early March because of dry conditions, strong winds and low humidity, according to the Kansas Division of Emergency Management.
The majority of the losses, however, occurred in the Starbuck fire that spread across southwestern Kansas - with losses in Clark County totaling more than $44.6 million, said Millie Fudge, the county’s emergency preparedness coordinator.
The fire began in Beaver County, Oklahoma, on March 6 and burned 662,687 acres in Kansas and Oklahoma. More than 500,000 acres burned in Clark, Comanche and Meade counties - making the Starbuck fire the largest in Kansas history - surpassing last year’s Anderson Creek fire, where nearly 400,000 acres burned.
Clark County had 425,000 acres burned.
Fudge said her loss estimate includes the $41 million in fencing, as well 21 occupied homes worth $1.28 million, $1.3 million in damaged electrical poles and wires, as well as nine vacant homes, appraised at $71,000.
Fencing has been one of the major time-consuming hurdles. Clark County Rancher Greg Gardiner said in mid-July his family lost 260 miles of fence. At that time, they had rebuilt 60 miles - about 5 miles a week.
“There are a lot of fences that haven’t been fixed,” Fudge said. “Who knows when it will all get done.”
Her numbers don’t include the value of cattle lost - somewhere between 5,000 and 9,000 head, locals estimate. For many ranchers, it also meant the loss of an unborn calf.
The Kansas Farm Service Agency so far has issued more than $1.2 million in Livestock Indemnity Payments for about 3,100 head of cattle and 100 sheep lost in the fires.
The LIP program pays up to $125,000 for cattle losses.