Sask. still pondering wildfire response

The Saskatchewan government is still weighing whether it will provide assistance to producers who lost animals and property in October’s wildfires.

Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart said the province has already agreed to help pay for the burial of what is now estimated at 770 cattle killed or euthanized as a result of the fires in southwestern Saskatchewan.

“Generally speaking, when it comes to paying for livestock, we haven’t used AgriRecovery to cover insurable losses, so we’re kind of caught in that precedent and it’s a bit of an uncomfortable place to be,” he said Oct. 25.

Some affected producers have said governments should step forward to help in the unusual circumstances of the fire and wind storm that occurred Oct. 17. In addition to the hundreds of cattle, miles of fences and other infrastructure and acres and tonnes of feed were lost.

However, Stewart said he is unsure about setting a new precedent, and added that feed assistance programs haven’t always worked.

“In the past we’ve implemented programs to cover some of the cost of transporting feed and we found that those programs were just built into the cost of the feed,” he said.

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“We don’t want to go in that direction again, but if there some things we could do, we’d be interested in that.”

A wildfire relief fund established by the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association had raised more than $100,000 worth of donations in about 24 hours.

President Shane Jahnke said all types and sizes of donations were rolling in, from a large ranch that pledged $30,000 to animal health and feed companies and agri-retailers.

“A lot of it right now is feed,” he said.

“What we’re probably looking for as well is [donations of] trucking assistance because people can donate from all over the place, but it’s hard to get the trucks there.”

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The Mennonite Disaster Service has volunteered time to rebuild fences.

“It’s just been absolutely remarkable,” Jahnke said.

He also said that a final tally of damage should be completed before the government announces any further help, if it intends to do so.

“How do you put a value on native grass?” he said.

“If we don’t get rain and it doesn’t grow back, it’s invaluable. If we get a rain, it will bounce back quick.”

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Contact karen.briere@producer.com