It's already apparent that the recent and ongoing consuming wildfires in Utah will have an impact on the state's economy. Kerry Bringhurst spoke with Kyle Stevens, Deputy Commissioner for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, about the impacts on the agricultural industry in Utah. Livestock producers in Sanpete County have reported the loss of lambs and ewes in wildfires. In other areas of the state, livestock has been evacuated.
Kyle Stevens: "We certainly are concerned about the impact that the wildland fires are having on livestock and agriculture community. We have staff in the process of identifying land owners and livestock owners who are being impacted by these fires."
But he says it's difficult getting in touch with people while they're in the process of trying to relocate their animals. The Department is trying to identify available pastures or grazing areas that affected livestock can be moved to.
"The majority of our work will be after the fact. We will be working with the USDA and other agencies to coordinate a response, whether that's dealing with rehabilitation after the fire, with re-seeding, fence building, water development, those kinds of things."
Stevens and the Department of Agriculture and Food don't have an estimate yet of how much agricultural acreage or how many head of livestock are affected by the fires. But they do know that both private land and public lands are involved and livestock operators and dependent on this land.
The Federal government has a disaster relief system for agricultural emergencies. In order to receive funds Governor Herbert will have to request assistance from the USDA Secretary. This type of disaster has not yet been declared in Utah.
One way that the state will help is through noxious weed and invasive plant mitigation. Stevens says, "This past year the legislature appropriated $1 million toward invasive species mitigation." Noxious weeds increase the risk of fire, so suppression of these species helps with fire prevention in the future.
Art Douglas, Director of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, announced a meeting this week for representatives from his office, the U.S. Forest Service, the BLM, and the USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service to assess the impacts of recent wildfires on the agricultural industry in Utah.