The impacts of wildfires on Idaho livestock

During a time of high inflation and gas prices, Smith says he had to transport his cattle home to private pastures.
Published: Aug. 4, 2022 at 6:45 PM MDT
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —Wildfires are burning across Idaho, including most notably the Moose Fire which is burning more than 64,000 acres in the Salmon Challis National Forest at last report. Many times with wildfires people tend to forget about the impact they have on ranching operations, as many ranchers rely on public lands to graze their livestock on. Now some are now being chased off those lands.

Carmen Creek Rancher Jay Smith and wife Cheyenne graze about 800 head of cattle on 100,000 acres of public and private land, about 40,000 of it is now being impacted by wildfires in the Salmon Challis National Forest.

“For me as an individual and an operator where this one is ion my allotment with my cattle it way more stressful,” said Jay Smith.

During a time of high inflation and gas prices, Smith said he had to transport his cattle home to private pastures. He said they typically start that process in September, not in July.

“We go to that federal land during the grazing season, and that allows us to put up crops for winter at home. So, if those cows are home early that means less crops for winter. Less cattle you can run, and income,” Smith said.

University of Idaho Professor Karen Launchbaugh said it can take a few years before livestock can return to a grazing area damaged by fire so re-growth can occur, and in dense forest areas like the Salmon Challis National Forest it can be dangerous.

“From a cattlemen’s standpoint all those dead trees can be a problem getting animals through. It can be dangerous actually,”Launchbaugh said.

Additionally she said, it can take livestock a few years to adjust to a new forage system, and possibly lose weight or become sick.

“They are going to encounter poisonous plants they don’t know about. They are going to encounter good plants they don’t know about. You usually see a production hit when you move animals to new areas,” Launchbaugh said.

According to the site Progressive Forage in an article titled Smoky Skies Impact Hay, smoke from wildfires can cause hay to “lose some of its green color and may appear light yellow”. Ash from wildfires, ”does not contribute to the energy value of the crop, every percentage increase in ash content results in a decrease in something else of nutritional value, such as protein or carbohydrates.”

In the end, Smith said he has seen tremendous support from the community during this tough time. “We have had some offers of grazing land, but as I said it’s really hard for neighbors to give up what they need for themselves, but we had some.”

Smith said neighbors have also been willing to help him wrangle up cattle so he can bring them home, which is very much appreciated considering operational cost for ranchers is more than 200% higher this year than last year.

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