Ranchers in the South Cariboo have been voicing accolades of appreciation to the British Columbia Cattlemen’s Association (BCCA) for its assistance in riding through the red tape to gain access to their herds in wildfire areas.
BCCA general manager Kevin Boon says this assistance was sorely needed in some places, particularly for ranchers with range territory that spans over two regional districts and fire centres. Both areas require permits for agriculture operators to head out on horseback to find, round up and remove their livestock from burned territories, or even to check on, feed and water them.
”Access became a real big part, right from the start … especially [for some of them in] the South Cariboo, as the boundary between the Cariboo Regional District [CRD] and the Thompson-Nicola Regional District [TNRD] falls right in there.
“We had to deal with the two centres of operations, and that became a real challenge. So, we were able to have the right contacts and stuff, so that when they had an issue [with overlapping range], those were the types of things we became quite successful at doing.”
One example which was “extremely helpful” within the CRD was the BCCA managing to arrange for dual-region-range ranchers to apply directly with the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in Williams Lake, where they were assisted to do permitting and range co-ordination right there, he explains.
Boon notes that Reg Steward, AgSafe BC provincial ranching safety consultant/field operations superintendent for the Cariboo region was on site at the EOC assisting with this process.
The TNRD wanted to “do their own thing” until the BCCA and the EOC managed to put checkpoints at the boundaries, he explains.
“So, then they were actually recognizing our permits out of the [CRD] to allow guys to go into the TNRD, and it just helped the process quite a bit … getting guys in was just one of the biggest things we did, at the start.”
While this help with access permits is still ongoing, Boon adds as the situation has progressed, the BCCA identified other important assistance that South Cariboo ranchers really needed, with recovery, cleanup and “anyplace else we can help.”
Boon says the BCCA is administering locally some of the federal/provincial government’s AgriRecovery funding of $20 million announced on Sept. 5 to aid in wildfire recovery for B.C. farmers and ranchers.
For these operations to get back in business is more than wildfire relief for grazing and hay loss, as agriculture recovery money typically excludes rebuilding any infrastructure that is insured by the operation owner.
Ranch recovery can involve some big money for replacing many kilometres of burned-out fences, or even corrals, he explains. Boon says the fences are insurable, so that is also where the BCCA helped cut through the bureaucracy to gain some funding for these recovery projects.
“We kind of thought outside the box a little bit on that. We convinced the government that [ranchers] would only ever insure for materials … but in this case they’ve had fences built up over 20 and 30 years, and they’re going to have to rebuild them in just about a year’s time.”
The BCCA convinced government to allow AgriRecovery to cover the non-insured aspects of replacing burned fencing, he adds.
“They’re going to go for $4,200 a kilometre to cover extra labour costs for these guys. That basically allows them to hire someone in to help them to put the fences up if they need to.”
While the ranchers will need to retain evidence they rebuilt the fence, how they spend the labour funding will be up to them, allowing more flexibility for recovery of the critical infrastucture they need for business operations.
Boon adds beyond the post and rails, it will also cover up to about $50 a head for some of the producers (on private land only) to find their cattle, and to get them examined and healthy again.
In the beginning of the wildfire season, many were available and set up to move bigger cattle loads, so the BCCA co-ordination involved more the “small lots” – the horses, the pigs, even the chickens, mostly through administering other government funding, he explains.
Boon says the BCCA organized a registered program with WorkSafeBC, including permits and other arrangements where a rancher could hire a “horse and rider” (funded at $350 a day) to help them find the cattle and getting them back home. While this involves “a lot of work,” most ranchers know where the riparian and low areas are where bovines tend to hold.
“The ministries of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, and Agriculture, have been absolutely fantastic to work with in this.
“[Also] with BC Wildfire Service, we’ve managed to make some major breakthroughs with them and get some understanding of the value of the rancher out there. We know what they are looking after, but for us in the Cattlemen’s Association, our number 1 priority is our ranchers … when a rancher calls, we do our best to try to weed their way through the system.
“The fences and those structures are material and they can be rebuilt, no matter what … but the animals are a lifelong deal.
“With the emotional toll, and just knowing someone was there to help their back, I think we were able to give some very good mental and emotional help to these guys as well.”
The BCCA is “a long ways from done yet” and is also working with government on these and other programs, including for more fencing, he adds.
“We will continue to fight for our ranchers.”
More information on BCCA assistance, including how to access AgriRecovery funding, is online at www.cattlemen.bc.ca.