Fires continue to rage in the Northwest portion of the country. New numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show the cost of fighting wildfires topped $2 billion in 2017, a new record. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is using the new figure to stress the need to reevaluate the budget of U.S. Forest Service, which falls under USDA’s umbrella.
“Forest Service spending on fire suppression in recent years has gone from 15 percent of the budget to 55 percent—or maybe even more—which means we have to keep borrowing from funds that are intended for forest management,” Perdue said in a statement this week.
Charred acres and more wildfire fears are fresh in the minds of farmers and ranchers in Montana, who’ve been battling flames for months. Just this week, the Blacktail fire, which flared up east of Livingston, Mont., grew to 5,000 acres by mid-week.
Rachel Spangelo, is a cattle rancher in Two Dot, Mont., and saw the fierce flames firsthand, with family and friends working to save McFarland White Ranch and Martin Mooris Ranch this week.
“The fire burned over 6,000 acres, and it’s still not 100 percent contained,” Spangelo said. “There are more than 100 firefighters camped out in our small town.”
Ranchers met to map out how to save as many acres as they could, as helicopters dropped water on burning land. Rains did finally arrive late in the week, but damage already done resulted in thousands of charred acres. Spangelo says she’s thankful they were able to move their livestock to ground out of the fire’s way, sparing them from any major livestock losses.
In St. Ignatius, Mt., Jerome Stenberg, owner of J-Bar Stenberg Ranch says the fires burned home, farms and ranches this year, forcing mass evacuations in Missoula. He says it’s a disaster that’s being largely overlooked.
“Without the west’s cattle industry, where would your corn markets go?” said Stenberg. “Earlier this month, there were three-quarters of a million acres in uncontrolled fire.”
The wildfires consuming farmers’ and ranchers’ lives this year. He says even this summer while enjoying the county fair, families were notified to go home and prepare to evacuate.
“Please keep Montana in your thoughts,” he said. “We need rain and snow for the mountains. That is the only way to end this 2017 fire season.”