By Candace Krebs Contributing Writer
Welcome spring rains and in some cases snow are bringing a blanket of green to burn-blackened prairies.
“Everything on our ranch is green and growing,” said Mark Luckie, manager of the Snake Creek Ranch that straddles the border between Kansas and Oklahoma. “It makes you feel better anyway.”
The area is still a long way from a full recovery, with the range remaining fragile.
“I’m still seeing lots of bare ground,” Luckie said. “I wouldn’t expect us to have 100 percent grazing for a couple of years yet.”
His ranch will host the latest in a series of fire recovery informational meetings on May 18, starting at 9 a.m. Range management specialists from Kansas and Oklahoma are teaming up to present the on-site workshop. The ranch is located south of Sitka, Kansas, or one mile west of where Highway 183 intersects with the state line road.
The meeting is free and open to the public, and a lunch will be served. For more information, contact K-State’s Clark County Extension Office.
Earlier this week, Ashland, Kansas, hosted ranch consultant Dave Pratt for a two-day disaster recovery and planning workshop. That meeting focused on the steps involved in writing a new business plan following a natural disaster.
Local ag agent Brice Gibson said the meeting next Thursday will examine specifically how to manage recovering grassland, determine proper stocking rates and prevent overgrazing.
“We still don’t have enough vegetation out there to sustain our local cowherd over the summer,” Gibson said. “It will be the end of summer before we can let cattle eat without wiping out the grass.”
Luckie said he is seeing spots where weeds are filling in much faster than grass. Weed control throws another cost at ranchers who are already facing huge financial losses.
“I went in and priced an aerial application of 2,4-D herbicide, and it was $13.95 an acre,” Luckie said. “That would be on top of the costs of repairing fences and all the other things we need to do.”
He estimates the ranch lost 12,000 acres of grass and dozens of baby calves in the fire or during the process of moving the herd to fresh pastures. He feels fortunate, though, because to his knowledge no mature cows were lost.
The cattle market has been on the rebound since the fire occurred, but Luckie wasn’t sure how or to what extent it would affect ranchers who need to rebuild their herds. “The fat cattle and the stocker market is a little bit different than the cow-calf situation,” he said.
For Gibson, who directs ag extension operations in Clark County, it’s literally been trial-by-fire in his new job. He was only in the position for a few weeks when the massive wildfires broke out and blackened much of the county.
Still, he’s not unfamiliar with the region’s landscape or its challenges. He grew up near Laverne, Oklahoma —which is where the fire originated — and attended Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva. He previously worked as an ag teacher in Texas and New Mexico.
He said he intends to marshal resources from both K-State and Oklahoma State University to address ongoing informational needs.
He is already planning another meeting for Aug. 21 intended to help unravel some of the tax implications of the wildfires.
Gibson has invited well-known ag law specialist Roger McEowen, now the Kansas Farm Bureau professor of ag law and taxation at Washburn University in Topeka, to come and share expertise on legal and financial considerations.
McEowen conducts approximately 80 to 100 seminars annually across the U.S. advising farmers, agricultural business professionals, lawyers and tax professionals.
Among other things, he is expected to address loss value assessments and how to handle losses and donations at tax-filing time, Gibson said.