The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), acting in response to a directive from President Donald J. Trump, has authorized Oklahoma cattle producers impacted by the March 7 wildfires to graze Conservation Reserve Program lands.
USDA’s Farm Service Agency estimates almost 390,000 acres of pasture burned in Beaver, Ellis, Harper, Roger Mills, Woodward and Woods counties. Cattle death is estimated to exceed 3,000 head.
“The authorized grazing of CRP lands provides much needed forage to surviving cattle in these counties while producers erect much-needed exterior fencing and wait for pastures to green up,” said Eric DeVuyst, professor of farm management with Oklahoma State University’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.
In addition to forage consumed by wildfire, more than $22 million of fencing was destroyed as wildfires ravaged parts of northwestern Oklahoma, southwestern Kansas and the Texas panhandle.
“Rains over the last two weeks are helping with green up, but fence repair and reconstruction is time consuming and can cost $8,000 to $10,000 per mile,” DeVuyst said.
In an official statement, USDA Acting Deputy Secretary Michael L. Young said, “Ranchers are facing devastating conditions and economic calamity because of these wildfires and they need some relief, or else they face the total loss of their herds in many cases. These measures will allow them to salvage what remains of their cattle and return to the important business of feeding Americans and the rest of the world.”
The USDA action is required to direct the Farm Service Agency to permit the grazing on lands covered by the CRP, which exists to conserve and improve wildlife resources. In this case, the grazing will overlap with the primary nesting season of the lesser prairie chicken. CRP has procedures in place, already developed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to permit emergency grazing on protected lands during nesting season.
Lesser prairie chicken nesting season runs in Texas from March 1 to June 1, in Kansas from April 15 to July 15, and in Oklahoma from May 1 to July 1.