Thunderstorms were the last thing the parched land outside Albuquerque, N.M. needed. Lightning struck a dry field last week and started a wildfire, which has consumed over 80 thousand acres of land.
Ranchers have had to ship their cattle away from the scorched grazing lands to other areas, including South Texas. Agriculture officials have appealed to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to find public or private land where the displaced cattle can graze.
Les Owen, a range resource specialist with the New Mexico Department of Agriculture remarked, “Finding grass that doesn’t have some cattle on it or some areas of rangeland that haven’t been destocked because there’s just no grass left is nearly impossible in New Mexico.”
The wildfire has only been 20 percent contained.
Andy Groseta, president of the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association, promoted the Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act to help ranchers in wildfire hazard zones.
In a press release, Groseta explained, “Wildfires burned over 9 million acres in 2012 with a suppression price tag of almost $2 billion. This doesn’t count any of the costs associated with restoration or loss of property.”
Wildfires are a danger to both livestock and grazing land. Ranchers often suffer large financial losses because of the damages.
“The impact to the ranching community can hardly be measured. Across the West, hay is in short supply. Thousands of miles of fence and countless corrals and water improvements must be rebuilt. Thousands of head of displaced livestock have had to be shipped to temporary pastures. Unfortunately, dry conditions are expected to persist, delaying the recovery of burned area.”
In an address to Congress, Thomas Tidwell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, said that wildfire season lasts two months longer than it did 40 years ago and wildfires now destroy twice as much land as they used to. He cited climate change for producing the hotter, drier conditions.
Tidwell detailed, “Ten years ago in New Mexico outside Los Alamos we had a fire get started. Over seven days, it burned 40 thousand acres. In 2011, we had another fire. Las Conchas. It also burned 40 thousand acres. It did it in 12 hours.”