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 familiesâ€™ cattle herds.
But for many, the first job after the fire passed was loading a rifle.
â€œWe did what had to be done,â€ Mr. Kaltenbach, 69, said. â€œTheyâ€™re gentle. They know us. We know them. You just thought, â€˜Wow, I am sorry.â€™â€
â€œYou think youâ€™re done,â€ he said, â€œand the next day you got to go shoot more.â€
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 Americaâ€™s â€œforgotten men and women.â€
â€œThis is the country that elected Donald Trump,â€ 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. â€œI think heâ€™d be doing himself a favor to come out and visit us.â€
Mr. Gardiner voted for Mr. Trump, and said he just wanted to hear a presidential mention of the fires amid Mr. Trumpâ€™s tweets about the rapper Snoop Dogg, the East Coast blizzard and the rudeness of the press corps.
â€œTwo sentences would go a long way,â€ 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 devastatedÂ 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.
â€œThis is our Hurricane Katrina,â€ 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 â€œout of touch and didnâ€™t care about us.â€
â€œNone of them are worth a damn, Republicans or Democrats,â€ 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.