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B.C. cattle ranchers left waiting for federal assistance to fix wildfire-damaged fences

Roughly 90 per cent of summer feed for B.C. cattle comes from grazing on crown land
Cattle walk through wildfire smoke during the 2018 fire season, the worst on record in the province. Ranchers are once again being offered a variety of supports after the third-worst wildfire season in B.C.’s history. (Photo credit: Black Press files)

It was a difficult summer for cattle ranchers in B.C. as wildfires scorched ranch lands, damaged structures and threatened cattle. Now that the fires have been put out, cattle ranchers are still waiting for federal assistance to fixed damaged fences that sit on crown land.

Crown fences are an asset owned and managed by the federal government that prevents wildlife and livestock from getting loose and potentially wandering across roadways. Roughly 90 per cent of summer feed for B.C. cattle is on Crown land.

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“The fencing is extremely important for us in that we don’t want our cattle in areas that are sensitive or not conducive to cattle grazing,” said Kevin Boon, general manager of the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association. “If we don’t have that, then we lose the use of that land until we have fences in place.”

Cattle ranchers in B.C. can apply for funding to fix the fences under the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements program, but Boon said that federal assistance has been slow to materialize. Since the fencing is a Crown asset, it’s not the responsibility of ranchers to fix and it’s not a cost they could afford.

“It’s always been covered by the federal disaster assistance program and we have no reason to believe it won’t be. It’s a matter of timing and it’s been applied for,” Boon said.

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Discussions are taking place between the federal government and Emergency Management B.C. to get that funding in place in time to get the fences built. Boon is hopeful that cattle ranchers will be able to use that land for grazing next summer, but if the fences aren’t built in time, ranchers could lose access to their source of summer feed.

The wildfires that ravaged much of B.C. led to steep losses for ranchers. Boon said he wouldn’t venture to give an exact figure, but estimates the losses to be in the millions. On top of the decline in revenue from fire and drought, some of the damaged fences exist on private land and therefore are not covered by federal assistance programs. To make up for those shortfalls, the B.C. government created a $20-million AgriStability fund which has already begun distributing funds to farmers.

B.C. Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham faced questions in the Legislature on Oct. 7 from Liberal MLA Lorne Doerkson about the issue of crown fencing and support for ranchers. Popham said the government has been steadfast in their support.

“We had issues throughout the summer that we were constantly updated on, and we were able to respond as necessary. It’s a complicated situation, but we do understand that cattle need to stay in place, and the issue of putting fences up on Crown land is something that is a priority,” she said.


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