Farmers at a loss after structures destroyed by wildfires ravaging Peace Region
FORT ST. JOHN -- While the dangers of the northern B.C. wildfires begin to ease, the damage has just begun. Farmers and ranchers across Peace Region are struggling with the mark the fires left behind.
Many are facing burned fences, grassland, outbuildings, chicken coops and more.
“We were asked to evacuate and we had cattle calving and we chose not to. We had many things to look after,” says local Farmer Dave Harris. “So we stayed and tried to protect.”
Harris is one of the many farmers who stayed behind despite evacuation orders to protect his farm and livestock.
While they tried, for most, it was not enough. The costs associated with the damages are much higher than they thought.
With fences down, wildlife like deer, moose and bears are getting tangled in old fencing, says Thomas Stahl, who is organizing an initiative to help raise donations, recruit volunteers and find equipment to help local farmers. “We have to make sure that these calves and deer aren't getting wrapped up in barbed wire fences. So we need to get on top of this immediately.”
He says cattle are now grazing hay land due to their grazing lands being destroyed, which may lead to a hay shortage.
“I just talked to a lady from Goodloe who lost some outbuildings. She lost two barns. She lost her chicken coops. She lost two cabin shelters. She lost fence lines. So it's a lot more than what I initially thought it was,” says Stahl.
On May 24th, farmers and ranchers met up at the Cordova Shop in Fort St. John to fast-track this process by asking for immediate financial aid from the provincial government. They are also asking for more fences, infrastructure as well as pasture and water sources.
Bob Zimmer, the MP for Prince George- Peace River- Northern Rockies, says, “the next step is replacing a lot of that needed infrastructure fencing for farmers is critical and it's timing to some farmers are calving right now so they have calves in the field, cows in the field, and no fences normally to hold them in.”
The Fort St. John and District Chamber of Commerce has also stepped up to write a letter to the Minister of Agriculture and Food Pam Alexis.
“Many area ranchers and farmers are in grave danger of being unable to properly care for their livestock through the remainder of this year and the winter-feeding cycle... Many cannot meet that deadline because the fires damaged or destroyed fences and infrastructure,” writes CEO Kathleen Connolly in the letter. “This situation is urgent as the health and welfare of animals are at risk, and the economic stability of the agricultural industry is uncertain.”
Like many other farmers and ranchers who attended the meeting, Farmer Hannes Koekemoer says, “hopefully we'll actually get some reaction out of this and like the guy that organized everything said, get a little bit of a faster turnaround and not waiting for three months to get something fixed.”