Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said on March 24 that agricultural producers in 16 Texas counties impacted by wildfires will be eligible to receive $8.134 million in Emergency Conservation Program funds.
“Earlier this week, USDA opened Conservation Reserve Program acreage to producers affected by the wildfires in Texas and Oklahoma, as part of our ongoing commitment to provide resources to those in need,” said Johanns. “Today, we are providing an additional $8 million in Emergency Conservation Program assistance to help farmers and ranchers in Texas to replace destroyed fences and deliver water to cattle.”
The 16 eligible Texas counties are: Carson, Collingsworth, Cooke, Donley, Gray, Hartley, Hemphill, Hood, Hutchinson, Oldham, Parker, Potter, Roberts, Somervell, Tom Green and Wheeler.
Earlier this month, Texas received $2 million in ECP funds for wildfires that burned from late December 2005 through early January 2006 and Oklahoma received $1.6 million in ECP funds for wildfire recovery.
ECP provides funding for producers to remove debris from farmland, restore fences and conservation structures, provide water for livestock and grade and shape farmland damaged by a natural disaster. Eligible producers receive cost-share assistance of up to 75 percent of the cost of approved practices, as determined by FSA county committees.
Earlier this week, USDA announced that agricultural producers in 27 Texas counties and six Oklahoma counties currently being impacted by wildfires can remove dry grass on and move cattle to Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage, without facing charges for grazing value or the baled value of removed forage. This action will also have the added benefit of helping to reduce fire potential. On a case-by-case basis, USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) county offices will grant authority for CRP participants in these counties to remove the dry grass for the next 30 days and will grant permission for CRP participants in these counties to move cattle to CRP land for the next 60 days.
Unusually dry conditions, along with high winds, dry grass and brush, caused the extreme fire conditions in these counties where CRP acreage has been made available. The six affected Oklahoma counties are: Washita, Canadian, Jefferson, Custer, Cleveland and Osage. The 27 Texas counties are: Armstrong, Briscoe, Carson, Castro, Childress, Collingsworth, Cottle, Dallam, Deaf Smith, Donley, Gray, Hall, Hansford, Hartley, Hemphill, Hutchinson, Lipscomb, Moore, Motley, Ochiltree, Oldham, Potter, Randall, Roberts, Sherman, Swisher and Wheeler.
In addition to emergency conservation funds, rural development assistance for community-based purposes ($19.8 million, Texas; $10.1 million, Oklahoma) can be used by eligible applicants in the disaster areas for a variety of purposes: public safety equipment, libraries, medical facilities, etc.
Rural Development's business programs can help provide financial relief ($32.9 million, Texas; $17.4 million, Oklahoma) to small businesses as a result of natural disasters.
USDA's housing loans are primarily used to help low-income individuals or households purchase homes in rural areas. Funds ($103 million, Texas; $13 million, Oklahoma) can be used to build, repair, renovate or relocate a home, or to purchase and prepare sites, including providing water and sewage facilities.
In addition, individuals displaced by these fires may receive priority to occupy any vacant units in rural rental housing projects financed by Rural Development. Local Rural Development Offices may be contacted for property locations and vacancy information.
For more information on Rural Development programs, and/or assistance on minimizing losses resulting from the disaster, contact the USDA Rural Development Office at: www.rurdev.usda.gov/recd_map.html .
Forest Service Activity
The USDA Forest Service deployed significant resources to assist in fighting the wildfires in Texas, Oklahoma and surrounding states, with operations still providing assistance. At the peak of these fires' activity, in Texas and Oklahoma, the Forest Service had committed 68 aircraft, including four of the nation's five available large air tankers, 79 units of equipment (dozers and engines) and more than 1100 Forest Service personnel to fight the wildfires.
USDA reports that 117,682 acres burned to date in Oklahoma and that acres burned in Texas total more than one million acres. About 775 residences and other buildings have burned.
Natural Resources and Conservation Service Help
Estimates indicate a significant number of livestock (mostly cattle) have been killed by the recent intense fires in Texas. NRCS is providing technical assistance to local workers in properly burying the dead animals and will also help to rebuild existing conservation program practices that were damaged by the fires, including fences and livestock watering facilities that were built using NRCS funded programs.
Extension Activity Prepares Farmers and Ranchers
The Texas Cooperative Extension Service has employed its statewide outreach and communications network to disseminate public information and educational resources that support wildfire prevention and suppression. Extension Services people are holding meetings with ranchers and farmers to give advice on dealing with the aftermath of wildfires and information that can help them recover from the impacts of wildfires.
More information on the ECP and CRP Texas wildfire assistance is available at local Texas FSA offices and online at: http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov/fsa.asp . USDA disaster assistance information is available at: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal?navid=DISASTER_ASSISTANCE