Wildfire damage ‘catastrophic’

Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association has launched a relief fund to help producers who lost feedstock and at least 750 cattle in last week’s wildfires.

The livestock losses alone represent about $1 million.

But kilometres of fences, acres of grass and thousands of bales are also gone after the fires that burned through areas from Tompkins to Burstall to north of Empress.

“Some producers have lost over half their herds,” said president Shane Jahnke. “The drought conditions that fuelled the fires had already caused feed shortages. Now producers need to buy winter feed to replace the grass and the bales they lost to fires.”

Damage assessments are still underway but Jahnke called the event catastrophic.

The province, after a fly-over, estimated at least 85,000 acres of land were burned, along with barns, homes and sheds.

Because such a large number of cattle either died in the fire or had to be euthanized, agriculture ministry engineers are working with rural municipalities and producers to identify burial sites as close as possible to where the animals died. They want to avoid any concern about diseases such as anthrax.

Grant Zalinko, executive director of the livestock branch, said producers who have questions should contact the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 866-457-2377.

“The loss of these animals is very difficult to cope with and I want to encourage any producer to reach out to health care services in their communities,” he said.

The Farm Stress Line number is 800-667-4442.

Meanwhile, conservation officers were out in the fire zones after the Oct. 17 event and said they found only small numbers of dead wildlife.

They either identified or euthanized about six mule deer and antelope, along with several birds.

A spokesperson for the environment ministry said the numbers are so low that these would be considered individual losses rather than a population loss.

Carcasses were left where they were found and scavengers were already consuming them.

“Fire is a natural occurrence in the grassland ecosystem. Wildlife habitat in these areas are quite resilient to fire and tend to regenerate quickly,” the ministry said.

That won’t be the case for cattle producers looking for feed over winter.

Donations via the SSGA wildfire relief fund are accepted at www.skstockgrowers.com or by calling the office at 306-757-8523. Producers who require help, and they don’t have to be SSGA members, can call that same number.

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