RMs suggest ways for province to help in wake of fire losses

Saskatchewan rural municipalities want help for farmers and ranchers affected by this year’s devastating wildfires.

A series of resolutions, mainly from the RMs of Chesterfield, Deer Forks, Happyland, Fox Valley and Enterprise, received overwhelming support during last week’s Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities mid-term convention.

President Ray Orb said he and board members had toured the Burstall region, where October fires wreaked havoc, and the Glentworth area that saw a large fire earlier in the summer.

The board also met with councils from the affected RMs at the convention.

He said emotions are still raw as people struggle to come to grips with the devastation.

“We saw one ranch, there was nothing left,” he told the delegates.

“No cattle, no fences, no feed, no grain, no buildings or anything.”

The October fires claimed one life, sent three to hospital with serious burns, and destroyed at least 750 head of cattle, miles of fence and 85,000 acres of grass.

Earlier, Premier Brad Wall said the government would consider help through the Provincial Disaster Assistance Program, but that program doesn’t cover fire loss.

The opposition has asked the province to dip into its $300 million contingency fund, but last week Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart said the government was still looking at how it could assist beyond what it is already doing to help producers bury carcasses.

“The programs that are available generally do not cover insurable assets, and most of the losses in these fires unfortunately were insurable assets,” he said during question period.

“We’re still evaluating what can be done and looking for ways to help outside of those programs that just don’t fit the situation, I’m sorry to say.”

That includes AgriRecovery, the federal-provincial program that is supposed to be available to cover disasters.

RM delegates agreed that PDAP and AgriRecovery should both be available to help fire victims.

They passed resolutions to lobby that uninsurable fire loss be eligible under PDAP, that AgriRecovery be initiated, that grassland insurance be made available and that any pastures that aren’t usable for the next one to three years be reassessed and crown lease fees waived.

Wayne Freitag, reeve of the RM of Enterprise, said it would be at least a couple of years before grassland in his area recovers.

Chesterfield Reeve Karrie Derouin asked for support through AgriRecovery. She said it was used to cover wildfire losses in British Columbia and bovine tuberculosis losses in Alberta.

“It seems to be the only program where we have a chance,” she said.

Orb said the SARM board is still waiting for more exact statistics of what was lost in all the affected RMs and continues to meet with PDAP and government officials.

“As far as we’re concerned, wildfire is a disaster and it should be covered,” he said.

SARM also hopes to work with farmers and insurance companies to see if farmers and their machinery could be insured if they voluntarily fight fires.

Orb said at least one tractor and a disc were lost.

Meanwhile, Blair McClinton, who heads SGI’s farm business unit, estimated that less than 10 percent of the agency’s farm customers insure their livestock.

“I would speculate they haven’t always thought the risk of losing livestock was a risk they couldn’t absorb themselves,” he said when asked why more don’t buy coverage.

Catastrophic events such as the recent fires are rare, he said.

Since the fires, however, SGI has seen an increase in queries about insurance for both livestock and fences. Property claims for both the fire and wind damage during the same event are still coming in, he said.

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