The government will allow ranchers affected by devastating wildfires to graze livestock on protected grasslands for a limited time, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Tuesday.
President Donald Trump directed the department to open emergency grazing in certain lands in the Conservation Reserve Protection program in Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma following wildfires that started March 6.
The USDA estimates that about 1.6 million acres of grassland have been burned, and more than 15,000 have been killed in the blaze.
“Ranchers are facing devastating conditions and economic calamity because of these wildfires and they need some relief, or else they face the total loss of their herds in many cases,” Michael Young, deputy acting secretary of the USDA, said in a statement.
“These measures will allow them to salvage what remains of their cattle and return to the important business of feeding Americans and the rest of the world. I commend and thank President Trump for acting decisively in response to this dire situation,” Young said.
Ranchers will be allowed to graze on protected lands for a few months, but with some restrictions to protect the habitat of the lesser prairie chicken. Grazing will have to occur outside of the prairie chicken’s nesting season, and only if the Department of Agriculture determines that the ground will recover adequately.
The wildfires destroyed around $60 million worth of fencing and property damage in Oklahoma and Kansas, the Agriculture Department estimates. The “thousands of miles of fences expected to be a total loss” in Texas have not yet been surveyed.
“It’s right there at the top of natural disasters for our members over the years,” Todd Domer, vice president of communications at the Kansas Livestock Association, told Bloomberg News. “It’s going to take a long time for these folks to get back to any semblance of normal.”
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