It was sparked on July 19, and by the end of the month it was all but out, but not before leaving a tremendous amount of destruction and devastation in its path. The Lodgepole Complex Fire in Montana destroyed more than 270,000 acres near Jordan, Montana, much of which was prime rangeland. By the end, 16 homes were lost along with many barns and outbuildings. Ranchers lost animals, an unknown number of haystacks, miles of fence line and prime grazing land, creating a massive need for feed to keep their surviving cattle alive.
North Idaho farmers and ranchers heard about the urgent needs of ranchers and decided to pitch in. Boundary County Farm Bureau member Kristy Kellogg put together an Idaho hay lift to help.
“We have a lot of neighbors that are ranchers here in Boundary County, and they wanted to help out, so they donated hay. We also had Farm Bureau members that donated semi-trucks, and they even hauled the hay over there at their expense,” said Kellogg.
She said the response was so overwhelming that they had more hay than trucks. “It’s sad that we couldn’t get all of it over there. It was hard getting it delivered, but we ended up sending more than 135 tons of hay,” said Kellogg.
Residents from all across the county came out to lend a hand. Local landowners donated the hay while others loaned out heavy equipment to help load it. Others helped pay for fuel for the volunteer semi-trailer drivers to make the roughly 600-mile trip on their own dime and time.
Montana ranchers need at least 34,000 tons to feed 7,700 head of cattle this winter, up until the grazing turnout date of June 1, 2018.
Emergency hay donations started coming in July 24, not only from Idaho but throughout the West. “The first rounds came from the drought-stricken neighbors who provided hay despite having none to spare,” said Montana rancher Deena Shotzberger. “Caravans of hay continue to come in from all over Montana and adjacent states, some as far away as New Mexico.”
Thousands of cattle survived the wildfire after ranchers cut fences, allowing herds to escape, but now face the threat of starvation and dehydration. Ranchers struggled to collect their herds, but they have nowhere to graze and the challenges are just starting. This leaves landowners very little time to deal with government-sponsored help and reimbursement, so having such an outpouring of support and help from fellow ranchers has helped ease the burden as they continue to rebuild and get life back to normal.
Kellogg is spreading the word of rancher hardships through Facebook and other social media, hooking up ranchers with volunteers to help drive cattle, share pastureland and donate hay.
“With the help of Kristy Kellogg, who called farmers and ranchers that we didn’t reach by social media,” said Shawn Watt of Kalispell, “I feel like we are going to make a difference to ranchers over there. We have had offers of drivers and offers of fencing supplies, and of course we have had offers of hay. Getting hay there is the biggest hurdle we have. It is over 1,200 miles for the Boundary County folks, so this is no small task.”
Kellogg says the slideshow went viral, and she’s humbled by the outpouring of help from Idahoans. “All I did is make a little slide show on my County Facebook page and tons of people shared it,” said Kellogg. “It’s really cool because we started hearing all the comments back from the people in the affected areas. Things like ‘Thank you so much.’ We were called angels and that they were grateful for the help.”
Federal assistance and emergency loans are available to producers in fire areas. “Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is trying to expedite the process, but the funds are still several months out and will only cover a portion of the losses,” said Shotzberger. “So Northern Idaho and Northwest Montana must continue to step up and help our brother and sister Montanans until then.”
Helping out others in the community is nothing new to residents in Bonners Ferry, but to extend a helping hand to those in need so far away is a true testament to the selflessness of those who live here. Local ranchers know firsthand the hardship a loss of crops, land, feed or cattle can have on the industry, and those hardships are felt across all those who work the land. Tragedies like the Lodgepole Complex Fire create hardships for families but also tend to bring out the very best in humanity. Instead of saying ‘those poor’ people and moving on with their lives, Bonners Ferry immediately came to the aid and executed a relief effort that will be felt by those who lost so much for years to come.
One can never fully prepare for disasters like this, but it’s good to know that should disaster strike this community, friends and neighbors will be doing all they can to help each other out.