September 4, 2013

Spared Rancher Faces New Pressures

By Laurie Greene, Associate Editor
RIM FIRE UPDATE: InciWeb reported TODAY at 6 pm that the Rim Fire has burned 235,841 Acres (368 square miles) to date and is 80% contained. The estimated containment date for the Rim Fire is September 20, 2013.
Tuolumne County Agricultural Commissioner Vicki Helmar told California Ag Todaythere are no cattle loss statistics yet because even though the Rim Fire is becoming more contained, the fire is still burning, and the scattered cattle are still being rescued and transported.
Marian Rocha Zimmerly, CFO of Farms of Tuolumne County, a countywide program for the support and growth of agriculture, agri-tourism, and preservation of open space, said in addition to cattle, livestock in the area includes sheep, goats, llamas and horses. Most of these animals have been returned to their ranchers or relocated elsewhere in the county.
One fortunate area rancher and former California Sheep Commissioner, Ann Shaeffer of Big Creek Meadow Ranch in Groveland had taken fire prevention measures by removing ladder fuel, and had downsized her cattle to decrease her feed bill.
Shaeffer said, “We dodged a bullet because the fire was all around us, but my sheep ranch remained untouched. The ranch, one or two miles from the fire’s edge that reached CA 120, suffered no direct loss from the fire.
However, Shaeffer is facing new challenges; the fire has forced wildlife such as bucks, lions and coyotes to come down to her area in search of food and water. Shaeffer has a great dog to protect her sheep, but, at present, her grazing land and two ponds will have to be shared with these animals.
What these pressures mean, “only time will tell how wildlife regroups itself,” she said.
Another concern for this burned-out region is erosion when it rains.
Additionally, as many ranchers in the area, she has supplemental agribusiness with homestay guests and local festivals. Her land contains an 1870 historic stagecoach barn (which survived) where Teddy Roosevelt stayed while visiting John Muir. The future of this secondary ag industry here is in question.
Shaeffer says the whole community pulled together by helping each other where they could. Shaeffer took in her neighbors’ unsheltered livestock when his barn burned down. He, like others, had insurance for the barn, but not for the new shipment of hay housed in the barn.
Shaeffer summed it all up by expressing her gratefulness for her ranch surviving the fire and by declaring, “this gives ‘wildfire’ a whole new definition.”

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