Relief fund initiated for cattle producers impacted by Nebraska wildfires

Donations to the disaster relief fund are being accepted until the end of November.
The wildfires that burned in central Nebraska earlier this month caused extensive damage.
Published: Oct. 19, 2022 at 10:37 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Bovee wildfire that ignited in the Nebraska Sandhills in early October devastated protected and private land in a matter of hours and days.

“The majority of the almost 19,000 acres that burned was on private land,” says Brenda Masek, a calf cattle producer in southeast Cherry County.

Masek is also the President of Nebraska Cattlemen, a nonprofit organization that supports Nebraska’s cattle producers and beef industry.

She says the cattle producers in central Nebraska during the Bovee fire suffered heavily from the fires.

“You know, we’re in a drought anyway, so [the fire] took a lot of fall grazing, winter grazing, a lot of fences, some hay was burned,” she says.

The fire also devasted thousands of acres in the Nebraska National Forest, destroyed the State 4-H camp, and even led to the death of a volunteer firefighter.

Some of the biggest concerns from the wildfire are still to come, though, for those in production agriculture.

“When these wildfires go through a pasture and go through the Sandhills, especially this time of year, it leaves a chance of lots of erosion,” Masek adds.

Because of the fires, trucks, and fire engines were forced to drive through the pastures and land to stop the flames, which exacerbates the erosion problems.

“There was a gentleman out with a Caterpillar and he was doing a fabulous job of making fire lines, but that’s going to be years of getting that reclaimed.”

After Nebraska’s Emergency Management Agency declared the fire a designated disaster, Nebraska Cattlemen was able to re-open their disaster relief fund.

The relief fund was originally created in 2019 after the historic flooding and can only be activated in cases of declared disasters. It was also re-opened earlier this summer for the western Nebraska wildfires.

“There are things that are not insurable, that is what this is designated for,” Masek says.

Donations to the disaster relief fund are being accepted until the end of November. Applications for producers will be open until the end of the year.

Nebraska Cattlemen will assess the land and impacts on those who apply, and funding will be distributed next year.

“Another thing that will be assessed is shelter belts, the groves of evergreen trees used for blocking the wind for livestock in the winter time,” Masek says. “I don’t know how those will be assessed but those aren’t insurable, so anything that’s not insurable is what this is designated to go for.”

The dry conditions across the state continue to pose threats to farmers and ranchers, too.

“This year where we haven’t had any moisture, we haven’t had any snow yet, we really need that, we really, really need that to come in otherwise the erosion is going to be exponentially more through the winter.”

Masek says they’re seeing lots of support, but every dollar helps.

“Cattle producers and anybody in production agriculture are very generous in cases like this, for one very good reason. We don’t know when it’s going to be us next.”