In the News

High Plains Journal
Bill Spiegel

In the course of his political career, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran has traveled the highways and backroads of Clark County dozens of times.

Upon touring the area March 12, he could barely believe his eyes. “You could smell the smoke before even getting there. What I saw was blowing dust and ash. There were carcasses of dead cattle,” he described. “It is amazing devastation.”

It would be easy to be discouraged, he added, but another image will be far more lasting: “I also saw a loving, caring community that is rallying around ranchers and pulling together,” he said.

Even as the Kansas Republican toured the area, volunteers delivered hay bales from across the Midwest to the town of Ashland. Donations of fencing materials and other supplies to the local hay and feed store piled up, and folks from miles away were on hand to lend labor to build new fence, prepare meals or otherwise lend a helping hand.

“I saw evidence that there is nothing but hope for the future, gratitude for the help they received and faith in God that things will be OK,” Moran added.

The senator said lessons learned from last year’s Anderson Creek Fire in adjacent Barber County will help Kansas’ congressional delegation, local government units and producers navigate the various federal programs available.

These include:

Emergency Conservation Program. Administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, money from this fund helps producers replace fencing, which Moran said is at the top of many producers’ list of needs.

Livestock Indemnity Program, which provides funding for producers to replace cattle. The challenge is that U.S. Department of Agriculture payment limitations of $125,000 per entity apply. “We need to see if there is any flexibility here,” he said. “That remains to be seen and is a significant challenge.”

Conservation Reserve Program emergency grazing. Permission must be granted before this can happen. “This seems a bit less important. Moving traumatized cattle to a new location is something most ranchers want to avoid,” he said.

The only change that will require change of law is making exceptions of the farm bill payment limitation, he said. “Everything else requires USDA, the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and other agencies to eliminate the red tape,” Moran explained. “The needs are there now.”

He added his concern that ranchers affected by wildfire essentially lost their collateral in the flames. “Producers may not have the working capital today to fix their problems, even knowing that money is coming,” he said.

The senator will call on the banking industry to make loans to producers affected by fire. “They need to be able to make these loans and not tie ranchers up in knots,” he said.

Finally, he called for continued funding of land-grant university research on natural disasters like wildfire. “This isn’t a disaster that you just clean up and move on. There will be consequences for years to come. We need to support research and extension as we learn how grass can be restored,” he said.

In the short term, however, Moran said the message from ranchers and local pastors is simple: “Pray for rain.”

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