It will take millions of dollars to repair all the miles of fence lost by Barber and Comanche County ranchers amid a devastating wildfire. But it could be a little while before they see any federal funds to help offset the expensive rebuilding price tag.
Ranchers affected by the late March Anderson Creek fire received letters from the Barber County Farm Service Agency office dated May 27 – telling them their request for cost-share assistance was received, but the total exceeds the funds currently available.
“Therefore, we are unable to approve your request for cost-assistance,” officials typed.
It brought concern by a few ranchers, including one who sent the letter to The News recently, noting that the program was one touted by FSA officials just days after the wildfire was contained.
But producers shouldn’t be alarmed, said Rod Winkler, with the Kansas Farm Service Agency. Most likely, ranchers will see up to 75 percent of their costs covered through the federal Emergency Conservation Program.
It’s just at present, the account, funded through Congress, is exhausted. But Winkler said they have asked for money and he expected the funding pool to be replenished.
“The pool will be funded,” he said. “That letter is being sent out to every ECP applicant.”
Winkler didn’t elaborate on when that might happen, but said, “If everything is eligible and meets the criteria, we are confident it will be funded.”
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.
A mile of fence is estimated to cost $10,000. One Comanche County rancher estimated the ranch he operates had 80 miles of fence repairs, which would total nearly $800,000.
All the applications have been turned in, Winkler said, adding the local FSA board will rank the applications, as well.
The wildfire, considered the largest in Kansas history, started in Woods County, Oklahoma. It spread across nearly 400,000 acres in Kansas – scorching pasture grass, burning homes and outbuildings and damaging the fences in this part of southern Kansas known as Gyp Hills cattle country.
In Oklahoma, about 600 cattle died. In Kansas, Winkler couldn’t give an estimate of losses, adding there is no mechanism to measure it.
For now, ranchers still are building fence. Donations still are trickling in, but all fence supplies sent to Barber County in the wake of the fire have been distributed, said Chris Boyd, a local farmer who helped lead volunteer and donation efforts.
Folks also can give monetarily through the Kansas Livestock Association’s foundation.
One older rancher called a few days ago, he said, looking for volunteer fence builders. But with summer field work and efforts to clean up after May storms, most people have been busy.
Many are hiring crews, which will be working on the effort for a while.
“It is going to be a long process,” Boyd said.