Fires, floods and hurricanes have all been in the national news lately, giving a discussion of emergency preparedness a timely feel during the recent Arkansas Valley Livestock Symposium, hosted by the Colorado Livestock Association.

Fires, floods and hurricanes have all been in the national news lately, giving a discussion of emergency preparedness a timely feel during the recent Arkansas Valley Livestock Symposium, hosted by the Colorado Livestock Association.

Colorado has experienced its own share of natural disasters in recent years.

“There’s definitely been an increase in the incidents we’re seeing,” said Riley Frazee, the southeast regional field manager for the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Advance preparation, communication and mutual respect between farmers and ranchers and emergency responders were emphasized by the three speakers who covered the topic.

Christe Coleman-Holt, homeland security field manager for the southern region, outlined how the response was handled two years ago during the Hayden Pass fire in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. During mountain wildfires, evacuations can last for weeks at a time, creating a frustrating situation for farmers and ranchers who have livestock and crops to tend and businesses to run, she said.

While such situations are stressful for all involved, the first responsibility of emergency responders is saving human lives, she stressed.

In a couple of recent situations in Texas and Arizona, farmers and ranchers were killed after going back into evacuation zones, she noted. Such a scenario can also endanger the lives of rescuers.

In the case of the Hayden Creek fire, local farmers and ranchers were given temporary access permits to irrigate crops or feed and water livestock, but were escorted by a safety officer at all times. As a consequence of the interaction, local response teams gained valuable insights that helped with evacuation and re-entry procedures, Coleman-Holt said.

It’s best to get to know your local emergency managers and put together a response plan before a tragedy occurs, the speakers said.

Producers can start by asking themselves how they would evacuate the farm in an emergency, how they would respond to an evacuation order if no one was home at the time and which fences could be cut without disrupting critical roadway access. Local fairgrounds or other potential staging areas should do advance planning too.

Colorado has done a good job of including agricultural representation as part of its coordinated response team, headquartered at the State Emergency Operations Center, said Nick Striegel, assistant state veterinarian for Colorado.

The state has also trained a ready reserve of livestock responders and developed emergency plans using a program called Colorado

Striegel sent around a sign-up sheet asking for producer volunteers willing to serve as local liaisons in the event of a crisis.

“We are looking for ‘boots on the ground’ to validate reports we have coming in. We need local people who would be willing to do that,” he said.

A serious disease outbreak could also lead to containment procedures and restricted movement of livestock. In fact, that’s a greater concern to livestock producers than a natural disaster according to audience surveys, Striegel said.

The big threat is foot and mouth disease, which is highly contagious and affects all cloven-hooved animals. On an overhead screen, Stiegel put up a map showing that two-thirds of the world has some degree of it, with North America the sole exception.

During the meeting, resource conservation in the region was also discussed.

Rachel Theler, who works for the Colorado State Conservation Board, based at Pueblo, gave an overview of several projects currently underway in the Arkansas Valley.

She urged producers to be proactive in voluntarily meeting the aims of Colorado’s Regulation 85, which was passed in 2012 to reduce nutrient pollution in the state’s lakes, rivers and streams. By implementing best management practices, agricultural producers can avoid future regulatory action, she said.

“It remains voluntary through 2022,” she explained. “After that, the Water Quality Control Commission will evaluate participation levels.”

She suggested producers record and document any water quality improvements they make on their farms and sign-up to participate in local water quality monitoring projects.

Most farmers are already familiar with the federal cost-share assistance offered through the EQIP program, but Theler told producers not to overlook local conservation initiatives. Applications pertaining to these projects are ranked using a separate bid acceptance process from the national system.

The meeting also included a sweeping overview of other association concerns and activities, presented by Colorado Livestock Association’s three-member staff. Their lengthy list of priorities includes addressing the rural veterinary shortage in Colorado, pinpointing agriculture’s contribution to nitrogen deposition in Rocky Mountain National Park and assisting with the ongoing rollout of the state’s new electronic brand certification program.

In addition, CLA is collaborating with an antibiotic use pilot study being conducted by Mike Apley, a prominent Kansas State University veterinarian. Five of CLA’s feedlot members are currently enrolled in that research project.

Rapid Response for Agriculture and Livestock, or CORRAL, he said.