Ranchers in five Washington counties have until Sept. 13 to sign up for emergency grazing as a result of wildfires.
The Washington office of the USDA Farm Service Agency has received approval for emergency grazing on land under the agency’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), said Judy Olson, state executive director.
Under the CRP, in exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove “environmentally sensitive” land from agricultural production and plant species to improve environmental health and quality. Contracts for lands enrolled in CRP are 10-15 years in length.
The emergency rule affects ranchers in Asotin, Garfield, Klickitat, Kittitas and Yakima counties.
“When wildfire severely damages grazing and pastureland and ranchers become short of food source or fencing, sometimes there’s just no other options,” Olson said. “Your livestock has to go somewhere and they have to eat something.”
The agency requested authority to implement the emergency rule from the Farm Service Agency national office.
The approval is only on an individual, case-by-case basis between ranchers and CRP contract holders, Olson said.
The county office will identify CRP land, since there are rules against grazing on newly seeded CRP land and no financial assistance for fencing or water on CRP ground.
“It gives the producers an opportunity to feed their livestock while they make arrangements of a more permanent nature,” Olson said.
Ranchers have until Sept. 13 to apply at their county office, Olson said.
Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, said CRP contract holders typically have to take a 25 percent rental reduction if they graze the land.
Under the emergency rule, the CRP contract holder will not be obligated to take any payment reduction.
The livestock producer will be able to graze the CRP land for 30 days.
“I’m just hoping this time frame will be able to provide some assistance and benefit to some of the ranchers who (were) impacted,” Field said.
In some situations, the ground affected by the fires was slated to be used in the late fall or winter, he said, noting one rancher would likely need the rule later in the year.
Olson estimated that there are at least 15 ranchers who have indicated interest from the five counties. Recent rains have reduced the fire susceptibility in the past week, she said.
If other areas were affected, the agency would have to make additional requests as needs arise, Olson said.
“Emergency use really gives the CRP a chance to truly provide some great environmental benefits,” Field said. “It gives folks some forage that’s desperately needed, but also we’re giving a break to the ground that’s been burnt. It’s the ability to provide a heck of assistance right now for no cost.”