The Western Wildfires

I don’t watch television news much, so I hadn’t heard about the wildfires on the prairies until I read this article in the New York Times yesterday.

Death comes with raising cattle: coyotes, blizzards and the inevitable trip to the slaughterhouse and dinner plate. But after 30 years of ranching, Mark and Mary Kaltenbach were not ready for what met them after a wildfire charred their land and more than one million acres of rain-starved range this month.

Dozens of their Angus cows lay dead on the blackened ground, hooves jutting in the air. Others staggered around like broken toys, unable to see or breathe, their black fur and dark eyes burned, plastic identification tags melted to their ears. Young calves lay dying.

Ranching families across this countryside are now facing an existential threat to a way of life that has sustained them since homesteading days: years of cleanup and crippling losses after wind-driven wildfires across Kansas, Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle killed seven people and devoured homes, miles of fences and as much as 80 percent of some families’ cattle herds.

But for many, the first job after the fire passed was loading a rifle.

“We did what had to be done,” Mr. Kaltenbach, 69, said. “They’re gentle. They know us. We know them. You just thought, ‘Wow, I am sorry.’”

“You think you’re done,” he said, “and the next day you got to go shoot more.”

These are not big agribusiness corporate type cattle ranchers, but what remains of the old family-owned ranches that began in the 19th century. A lot of the families have at least one member with a “regular” job to make ends meet. The wildfires have burned 2 million acres, an area larger than the state of Delaware, it says here.

And I felt sad for this guy:

Beyond the toll of the fire, a frustration also crops up in conversation after conversation. Ranchers said they felt overlooked amid the tumult in Washington, and were underwhelmed by the response of a new president who had won their support in part by promising to champion America’s “forgotten men and women.”

“This is the country that elected Donald Trump,” said Garth Gardiner, driving a pickup across the 48,000-acre Angus beef ranch he runs with his two brothers. They lost about 500 cows in the fires. “I think he’d be doing himself a favor to come out and visit us.”

Mr. Gardiner voted for Mr. Trump, and said he just wanted to hear a presidential mention of the fires amid Mr. Trump’s tweets about the rapper Snoop Dogg, the East Coast blizzard and the rudeness of the press corps.

“Two sentences would go a long way,” Mr. Gardiner said.

One suspects the so-called president has forgotten them already. I did some searching and cannot find that Trump has yet addressed the wildfire situation, although he was quick to criticize President Obama last November for not speaking up quickly about the wildfires in Tennessee that devastated Gatlinburg.

So far the people affected by the fires have received little word about government aid, although farmers in other states and some farm organizations have sent hay, fencing and other supplies to the burned areas.

“This is our Hurricane Katrina,” Mr. Sawyers said. The political response to the fires convinced him that Washington, even with an administration supported by 83 percent of Clark County voters in the election, was still “out of touch and didn’t care about us.”

“None of them are worth a damn, Republicans or Democrats,” he said.

If there actually are any elected Democrats representing the folks in the burned areas, I’d suggest they get their butts in gear and try to do something. However, I suspect we’re looking at all Republicans — and climate change deniers as well.

Still, it does seem odd that I’m seeing only a little reporting on this. Maybe there’s more about it on television, but it’s not reflected on the Web. Rural America really is invisible.

6 thoughts on “The Western Wildfires

  1. I hate to admit this, but, I hadn’t heard about the wildfires either. It does prod the question at the back of my mind about just how awful and inept the response to disasters is going to be.

    My heart goes out to those people. As a farmer you have to maintain a certain distance from the animals you raise, otherwise, you would never be able to “harvest” them. But, for those who raise their animals in the real world outside feedlots, there is still a deep respect for them. Seeing the aftermath of a wildfire, would be devastating.

  2. I haven’t heard aboit these wildfires, either.

    When I was still in grade school in NYC , my parents sometimes sent me for a couple of weeks up to some of the friends they met in Germany, in relocation camps after the war. They had a very small ranch up in Canada. So I have a tremendous amoint of respect for the very hard working people who own these small to mid sized ranches. They come about as close to being REAL Libertarians, as anyone – certainly more so than some early-40’s millionaire, who pretends to be one.

    But, the truth of the matter is that by the very nature of what they do, and how far apart they live and work from others, is why the Federal government in DC can miss their troubles – unless their US Senator and Congresscritters make a point of it.

    They need to start making noise at the local and state level, and then maybe Congress will hear about troubles .
    Forget t-RUMP!
    Unless the ranch had his name on it, he couldn’t care less.

    Of course, the people who represent them – from the local and state governments, through their Senators and Congresscritters in DC – are probably all Republicans, so, unless they’re related to them, or are very close to them, they won’t get much help from them.
    And forget about any long-term planning due to global… whatever….

  3. One suspects the so-called president has forgotten them already.
    I think one suspects correctly! I mean really. To Trump they’re all a bunch of hayseeds and yokels, clodhoppers and rustics. He really couldn’t give a shit about them.. He got what he wanted from them and he’ll cast them off like a used rubber. They’ve served their purpose.

  4. It’s hilarious to imagine ranchers out west as libertarians. The entire westward expansion and settlement of this country was a project of the federal government. From clearing away the native people, to roads, bridges, water supply systems etc.; those people would have nothing without the help of the federal government.
    This points to the larger problem of people not understanding the circumstances of their lives. Like people who survive on social security and medicare voting republican, and raging at the federal government because they perceive it as too accommodating to non-whites.

  5. “I can’t believe the federal government won’t help me when my cattle’s face gets burned off!” sobbed the rancher who voted for the We Don’t Care If Your Cattle”s Face Gets Burned Off party.

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