Ranchers Finding Hope in Recovery from Wildfires and Drought

Husker Home Place

Producers are trying to move forward after experiencing devastating wildfires that ravaged grazing land across the state.

Published on: September 20, 2012

There were plenty of questions to be answered among 120 plus ranchers and landowners attending a wildfire recovery meeting held at Norden yesterday. The meeting was held in the dance hall at the Keya Paha County fairgrounds, one of just a few structures saved when late July wildfires raged through the community of Norden, on its way to burning around 117 square miles of grazing land in Rock, Brown, Keya Paha and Cherry counties.

Not to be outdone, fires have ravaged land around the state, most notably near Ogallala in August and in northwest Nebraska counties around Labor Day. That means that hundreds of ranchers around the state are rebuilding burned fencelines, replacing thousands and thousands of posts and miles of burned wire. They are scrambling for forages to replace burned up pastures and hay piles.


THAT CLOSE: The skeleton of a burned tree serves as the fitting backdrop for a wildfire recovery meeting held at the Keya Paha County fairgrounds this week. The fires burned much of Norden, but the fairgrounds structures were saved.
THAT CLOSE: The skeleton of a burned tree serves as the fitting backdrop for a wildfire recovery meeting held at the Keya Paha County fairgrounds this week. The fires burned much of Norden, but the fairgrounds structures were saved.

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A few among them are also seeking alternative lodging and shelter for their families or their livestock, because they lost everything in these fires. As we’ve followed the stories of these folks, we’ve continued to hear about the spirit of cooperation among community residents and farmers and ranchers in the most devastated areas.

But reality has been setting in and now the rebuilding is taking place. Drought is bad enough, but the fires just added insult to injury.

Trying to find silver lining, we know that the fires will bring about new diversity in the forested areas, and, with moisture, the grasslands will also recover well. NRCS and FSA staff members in the area talked to producers at the meeting about cost-share programs and emergency funds that will most likely be available to producers to help them rebuild fencing and tackle conservation planning.

Rich Wollen, who is the District Forester in Ord, told the group that trees have seen a double whammy this year with drought and fire. Experience tells us that recovery is fairly quick for grass and other vegetation. He noted that hardwood trees would most likely recover well, unless they were located in areas that burned with particular intensity. The ponderosa pine forests will see a more difficult road to recovery. Regeneration of the pine forests will have to come from seed trees that survived the fires, or from handplanting efforts on the part of landowners, Wollen said.

Having visited Norden just days after the fires were contained, and now again this week, I noticed some of what Wollen was saying. In one particular spot that I had photographed in late July where the burned pastures and tree in the foreground are quite evident, I noticed a slight greening of the pastures in that spot now, although the area has received scant precipitation since the fires were extinguished. Mother Nature has already kicked in, healing the land.

Be sure to watch www.nebraskafarmer.com and read our upcoming print issue of Nebraska Farmer for news, information and tips on meeting the challenges of drought and wildfire recovery. Your best online resource for drought information is the Farm Progress drought site at www.DatelineDrought.com.