August 28, 2013

Rim Fire Reportedly Kills
Hundreds of Head of Cattle

By Laurie Greene, Associate Editor

The California Farm Bureau Federation reports that as firefighters work to slow the Rim Fire in the Sierra Nevada, ranchers and timberland owners are trying to assess the extent of their losses.

Officials are calling the Rim Fire one of biggest known wildfires in California. As of 7 pm PST today, the Incident Information System (InciWeb) assessed the fire to be 20% contained with extreme growth potential.

Cattle ranchers rescued as many of their animals as possible, but cattle still perished in the flames that also destroyed their grazing lands. Tuolumne County Farm Bureau is organizing efforts to provide hay for cattle and displaced livestock. Thousands of acres of timberland have also burned.

Stevie Ipsen, Director of Communications for the California Cattlemen’s Association, explained that the ranchers she has spoken with report cattle in herds of 25 to 30 have died, and estimates are in the hundreds of head of cattle. It is unknown whether the fire suddenly shifted causing the calamity, but Ipsen said it appears that ranchers did not have enough time. Some have lost their homes or cabins as well.

Ipsen commented, “Some ranchers have insurance, but the reimbursement is nowhere near the real market value.”

Several livestock facilities have been established for ranchers to take their cattle to safety.

Most cattle are not in the mountains; rather, they are on valley-floor ranchland. Ipsen said, “Ranchers bring their cattle up the mountain to graze at the discretion of the U.S. Forest Service. Ranchers really provide a public service because the cattle help the Forest Service manage overgrowth that becomes fuel for fire.”

“Recently, overgrowth on public forest land grazing areas has been improperly managed due to increased public pressure to cease the practice and less frequent annual NEPA (Bureau of Land Management’s National Environmental Policy Act) assessments that enable the Forest Service to dictate the locations, length of time and herd size of cattle allowed up the mountain. “If NEPA assessments are not done fast enough, fewer cattle are allotted for grazing.”

U.S. Congress House Report (112-596-part 1) claims that project delays due to the NEPA process are caused by the overly cumbersome program, which causes a lengthy decision-making process for Federal agencies. Basically, lagging NEPA assessments are due to long preparation time needed for NEPA-required document preparation and litigation challenging the documents.

“All California forests are in danger,” Ipsen asserted. “It’s a perfect storm—overgrowth and dryness.”

We’ll post updates as they come in.