Dakotas ranchers helping wildfire-stricken colleagues


BISMARCK, N.D. | Ranchers in the Dakotas are helping colleagues in the Southern Plains who are dealing with the aftermath of devastating wildfires.

The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association and its Stockmen’s Foundation each have pledged $15,000 to help affected ranchers in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado, and the groups are encouraging others to donate.

“We want them to know that they are not alone,” said North Dakota Stockmen’s President Warren Zenker. “The cattle-ranching community is here for them.”

The South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association is paying oversize load permit fees for anyone hauling donated hay through the state to the fire-ravaged areas. The group is contributing up to $1,000, which will fund 40 trips, according to state Public Safety spokesman Tony Mangan.

Cattlemen’s Association Executive Director Jodie Anderson said South Dakota ranchers received aid from other producers after a large wildfire last summer and a devastating October 2013 blizzard, and this is a way for them to give back.

“It always seems to be the case. When disaster strikes the farming and ranching community, so many people leap to the rescue,” she said.

Ranchers in the southern states lost thousands of animals and suffered tens of millions of dollars’ worth of damage in the wildfires that blackened thousands of square miles this month. Dry conditions, low humidity and strong winds are blamed. The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week announced more than $6 million in aid to help with such things as restoring scorched land and rebuilding fencing.

The North Dakota rancher group and its foundation also have established the “Rising from the Ashes” Wildfire Disaster Relief Program, to which anyone can donate. All of the money raised will go to disaster victims, officials said.

“We cannot undo what has happened to them, but what we can hopefully do is rekindle their hope and help them recover from this disaster,” Foundation President Steve Brooks said.