The harrowing story of Molly Linville, a Central Washington rancher, is enough to send chills through any rancher.
A lightning bolt crashed to the ground near her remote home on June 26, starting a wildfire that would grow to 37,981 acres. The local fire district was able to protect her house, but one of her most valuable possessions — 6,000 acres of rangeland — was essentially left to burn.
With the flames racing toward her 60 mother cows, their calves and four bulls, she had to move the animals to safety with only the help of her cattle dog.
By the time the fire was done with her land, 5,500 acres were burned, making it unusable for grazing her cattle for two years or more. She would have to sell half of the cattle, losing their valuable genetics, because the land could no longer support them.
The state Department of Natural Resources has a policy that fails to recognize the value of rangeland. The agency even chooses not to fight fires on 600,000 rangeland acres it owns. The DNR will protect forestland, but grazing land is seen as worthless.
“Firefighters look out here and they don’t see anything. It’s wasteland in their minds. I thought they didn’t care. I said I lost everything and I got blank looks. What I’ve learned is they literally don’t understand the value of rangeland,” Linville, 42, told Capital Press reporter Dan Wheat. She operates the KV Ranch mostly by herself while her husband works overseas.
Beyond the ignorance, that policy makes DNR a bad neighbor, she said. If DNR lets its rangeland burn, there is nothing to stop a wildfire from crossing onto private rangeland. A fire that could be stopped when it’s small is allowed to build into a massive conflagration, destroying valuable grazing land and killing livestock, wildlife and, too often, people.
“This is not an indictment against DNR firefighters. It’s DNR policy,” she said.
Linville decided to meet with DNR and fire officials to find out more about the policy. Better yet, she wanted to help fire officials understand that rangeland is much more than vacant land. In some cases, if you added up the feed value of rangeland and the value of livestock it supports over the years, it’s probably as valuable as an equal amount of forest land.
Through her efforts, Linville is making headway. Working with fire chiefs she is developing a training course that will help firefighters understand the value of livestock and the land that supports it.
This is a breakthrough, particularly in Washington, which has been plagued by massive wildfires in recent years that have killed cattle, people and damaged livelihoods.
We applaud her efforts. It is an example of the ranching spirit that seeks to solve problems instead of fussing about them.
We urge DNR officials to follow up on the message that Linville has delivered.
It’s long overdue.