Wildfires leave ranchers adrift
Cattlemen confront ravaged pastures, injured cattle
By MITCH LIES
JORDAN VALLEY, Ore. -- Ranchers who lost grazing land to the Long Draw Fire have few options for feeding their cattle this summer, and no good ones.
Chris Bengoa, manager of the Lucky 7 Ranch, said he'd normally be taking about 2,000 cattle to a Bureau of Land Management grazing allotment near the Oregon-Nevada border right now.
With 75 percent of the allotment scorched from the Long Draw Fire, that's not an option this year.
"I guess we'll have to go home early with them and keep them on the ranch longer," he said. "We'll wean calves early. We've already bought a lot of hay. And we're trying to find some pasture."
Barry Anderson of Tree Top Ranches near Burns, Ore., said he is "going through hay piles" to feed 1,400 head he had to move because of the fire.
"There is not a lot of excess feed out there," he said.
"We're just kind of taking care of business for a while to see what we're going to do long term," he said.
"We're just looking for some grass to get through," said Richard Eiguren of Flying G Ranch in Burns Junction, Ore.
In addition to losing 10 cows in the fire, Eiguren lost 100 percent of his BLM grazing allotment to the fire.
He and his brothers aren't sure how they'll feed their 636 head until they get back on their allotment.
"We haven't got it figured out," he said. "We're still working on it."
The fire, the biggest in Oregon in 150 years, scorched 582,000 acres of Eastern Oregon rangeland.
With two years a typical waiting period before ranchers can graze federal lands damaged by wildfire, ranchers here are scrambling to find short- and long-term solutions to feed cattle.
"This is going to affect people two and three years down the road," Anderson said. "This greatly changes the management plan on a lot of ranches."
Ranchers who met July 24 in Jordan Valley said they are still working on how they would survive the loss of grazing land.
"We have more questions than answers," Bengoa said. "We're continually on our cell phones trying to figure out where to go, what to do to make everything work."
One thing is clear: Eight days after the fire was 100 percent contained, its effects are still prominent.
"We have fire a lot in this part of the world," Anderson said. "But this was the worst I've ever seen."
"I've never been around anything like this," Eiguren said.
Anderson said he scrambled to move 1,400 head out of the line of the fire when it first erupted, and was unsure two weeks later just how many made it.
"We gathered them up as quick as we could," he said.
"It was a pretty tough deal. It's very difficult on the health of the cattle to run from a fire," Anderson said.
"The death loss is sometimes not the biggest loss," he said. "It hurts their feet, burns their udders. And we've been doctoring a lot of calves for respiratory problems.
"That's what the devastation of it is, the long-term effects," Anderson said.
BLM officials at the meeting said they are still assessing the damage.
More than 90 percent of the land that was burned is under BLM management.
Their initial cost estimate to restore structures, such as fences, lost to the fire and reseed the land with grasses and sage brush ran to $50 million, said Bill Lutjen, who is leading the restoration effort for the Vale District BLM.
Lutjen said he wasn't sure when ranchers could bring their cattle back on the allotments.
"It all depends on the allotment," he said. "The idea is to let the range resources recover to the point where they can be grazed without damage."
Lutjen said he also wasn't sure how much restoration funding the Vale district will be able to secure. The district is competing for funds against large fires in Idaho and Colorado, he said.