Monday, August 24, 2015

Help for farmers, ranchers affected by massive wildfires

Mike Louisell

Wildfires burning across Washington have been devastating, particularly in Eastern Washington. Lives have been lost, families displaced and homes destroyed. The losses in agriculture continue to mount with reports of packing houses, chicken coops, barns and fencing destroyed, livestock lost or killed, and pasture and crops burned.

Right now, WSDA's role in responding to these fires is far more limited than other agencies directly engaged. But we can, at least, share information on resources available for those in agriculture affected by the fires.

Topping the list are federal agency assistance programs, such as the USDA's Farm Service Agency, which has a Livestock Indemnity Program to help those who have lost livestock due to the wildfires.

USDA Rural Development also has resources for agriculture, listed on the USDA Fire Recovery Assistance webpage, prepared by the State Food and Ag Council's Outreach Committee. The webpage lists programs that are available with financial and technical assistance, including recovery expertise from Washington State University Extension.

On the state side, Gov. Jay Inslee's office has created this webpage of wildfire resources with information on Red Cross shelters, state agency assistance programs and even opportunities for those wishing to volunteer locally. If you're on social media, Gov. Inslee's office is sharing the most up-to-date information on Twitter with the hashtag #WAwildfire.

Most likely, WSDA's role in the future will be in supporting the agricultural community as events transition to a recovery phase. Once the fires subside and farmers, food processors and those with livestock operations evaluate the extent of their losses, WSDA may be called upon to help directly with services.

For now, like all others in Washington state, we can only watch the courageous crews fighting these wildfires and work to support those affected by them.