Wildfires swept through the High Plains in early March and burned more than 1.5 million acres. A staple of cattle country burned with it. More than 18,000 miles of fencing was destroyed across the Plains and rebuilding is still ongoing well after the flames ceased, especially in the Texas Panhandle.
Farmers in Ochiltree County, Tx. are busy planting another crop as they do every year, but this isn’t the only job weighing on Ryan Johnson this season.
“We lost 10,000 acres,” said Johnson.
His farm and ranch are taking a direct hit during the March wildfires.
“We lost about 16 miles of fence,” said Johnson. “We’re about 75 percent done. Right now, we’re going back where cedar posts have burned off and replacing them with steel posts.”
It’s quick work for this necessity in cattle country. It’s a legacy infrastructure for producers. Some of these posts have been standing since William Taft was President of the United States.
“With fence rebuilding efforts, metal stakes are a big deal,” said Cody Gerlach of Perryton, Tx. “We have three, four, five metal stakes and then it’s a cedar post. All of those cedar posts are burned to the ground.”
Where those posts once stood, fire left behind weaker, brittle spots in the wire, leaving standing fence not in the best shape.
Even though some of the fence is still standing, it will still need to be replaced because the heat of the fire.
“The main recovery effort now is replacing all these cedar posts with actual metal posts going into the ground. That’s probably our biggest need, that and barb wire,” said Gerlach.
Both are an ongoing process and a strain for the checkbook. Some fence lines in the Plains costs roughly $10,000 per mile to build and all of it may not be covered by insurance.
AgDay’s national reporter Betsy Jibben interviewed one producer who didn’t want to be identified. His operation was at the front of the fire. He says hundreds of miles of fence still needs repair.
“[Rebuilding] is slow. You have to go through a certain process of rebuilding if you want the assistance they’re offering. I would say by the middle of next year, we ought to have good grass back. Fence lines all ought to be up.”
In Canadian, Tx., the Canadian Animal Health and Nutrition Store has been a main drop-off location for wildfire donations. They say very few producers are completely done reconstructing their boundaries.
“It’s steadily going on,” said Wes Avent, store manager. “It will take several months to rebuild all the fence. Most people are working on their perimeter fences and then when they finally get more time, they will look at interior fences. A crew of four will take five or six days to do a mile of fence.”
Avent says calls come nearly every day about fencing supplies. The good donated items are going fast.
“If they want to donate materials, it’s wire and t-posts. That’s what they’re after,” said Avent.
Drovers and The Farm Journal Foundation started “The Million Dollar Wildfire Relief Challenge” to raise money for ranchers to rebuild. The Howard G. Buffett Foundation says they’ll double donations up to $1 million.
So far, more than $500,000 has come in from 46 states. The funds will go to the Working Ranch Cowboy’s Association for grants to help rebuild fencing.