Proper emergency plans can save livestock

EDMONTON — Farmers and ranchers must have thorough emergency plans to properly deal with fires or floods that could sweep across their land.

Since 2009, Alberta has had three major floods, two major fires and a tuberculosis outbreak. The province averages about 1,000 wildfires each year.

“There are enough events happening and if you have not had a flood or a fire you are probably going to be next,” said Brad Andres of emergency management services at Alberta Agriculture.

It’s critical, Andres told an Alberta Beef Producers meeting in Edmonton June 11-13, for producers to have emergency preparedness plans in place to minimize losses that happen when they are evacuated from their property on short notice.

Last December, ABP created a working group to develop a post emergency animal health policy that will help farmers and ranchers get back to their operations after evacuation.

When people are ordered to leave their property, livestock still need food and water and power outages could pose longer-term risks.

Getting into a property during the evacuation period or soon after can be risky.

Many rural communities do not have a plan to deal with livestock or producers during emergencies, he said.

For emergency services, the priority is to save people, and a lack of communication and knowledge about what to do about livestock can worsen the problems.

Discussions are needed with community emergency staff, the RCMP, fire chiefs and agriculture fieldmen about moving livestock off a farm.

Besides evacuation, euthanasia and dead animal disposal needs to be included in post-disaster plans.

Last year, the forestry service issued permits to allow people into closed areas during a fire to tend to livestock.

Standardized permits could work in any municipality through agriculture service board offices.

In addition, premise identification has become a critical tool to help notify farms and protect animals. The system has been changed so producers can indicate where different pastures are located and link that information to the main premise. Contact information needs to stay current so owners can receive phone calls or emails when a disaster is imminent.

“We are starting to use it more for emergency notifications and facilitating re-entry,” Andres said.

Rural municipalities operate emergency services and need to work with agriculture groups.

“In municipalities, by legislation and by our principles, we are tasked with looking after people first,” said Al Kemmere, chair of the Rural Municipalities Association.

“We have to address a way to deal with the livelihoods of people and health of cattle,” he said.

Counties are starting to develop stronger emergency and evacuation plans and want to work with groups like Alberta Beef Producers so everyone understands every group involved in a crisis has different considerations.

“It is a concern for everybody depending on the character of your municipality,” Kemmere said.

Land-use plans need to include buffer zones to protect communities and should urge developers not to build subdivisions in forests.

A green area like pasture land surrounding a community would be useful to slow the momentum of a fire.

“Farmland is often one of the best buffers. If it is not maintained, it becomes a buffer of dead grass,” Kemmere said.

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