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Thune Talks With Ranchers About Fire Concerns

July 6, 2012, 6:30 PM by Derek Olson

Thune Talks With Ranchers About Fire Concerns

A recent rain storm has helped extinguish what remained of the White Draw Fire near Edgemont. But some local ranchers aren't celebrating, saying that the large fire wasn't handled properly.

Some ranchers say they weren't consulted about the lay of the land and area resources and because of that they lost more land than they should've to the fire.

On Friday, Senator John Thune sat down with a group of them to hear their concerns.

"When you're in Rome you need to listen to the Romans," rancher Mark Hollenbeck said.

That about sums up the sentiment of many ranchers in the Edgemont area who say they weren't asked about area resources that could have spared some of the nearly 9,000 acres consumed by the White Draw Fire.

"I think most people think that there was more land burned than was necessary.  Had they listened to the local people they probably would have had a smaller fire," Hollenbeck said.

But fire officials don't believe communication was an issue.

"The information officers and even the incident commanders have gone to meet with different ranchers.  My permit administrators for the range permits have met with many of the permittees daily," Hell Canyon District Ranger Lynn Kolund said.

Kolund says one of the reasons why much of this fire was fought indirectly was because the safety of firefighters and the public comes first.

"When somebody's brother or husband or someone has already been killed in a fire we need to approach this in a safe manner.  Those areas are not worth someone getting hurt or injured," Kolund said.

Still, Hollenbeck's ranching operation has been drastically affected by the blaze.

"I lost 25 percent of my grazing; I lost three months worth of my grazing. We were already short of feed because of the drought, so I'm going to have to de-stock 40 to 50 percent," Hollenbeck said.

"There's no hay out here this year and they're having a hard time getting it.  You can't even buy it.  There's a shortage," Thune said.

Thune says he heard the rancher's concerns and is working to bring them some relief.

"One of the requests that came in this morning and we're already working on it is having the federal government open up CRP acreage to haying and grazing," Thune said.

"I hope that Senator Thune can convince the Forest Service and those in charge of the Forest Service to improve their communication systems and to trust the local people and utilize them," Hollenbeck said.

Regardless of what comes from the meeting, one thing is clear.  The White Draw Fire was a learning experience for everybody.

"Hopefully the lesson learned here is yes, we can do a better job. There needs to be more consultation with local officials, with county commissions, with mayors, with landowners. They know this area. They know these hills and they know every canyon," Thune said.

The ranchers we spoke with say that their anger is only with the fire's management team.  As for the firefighters who helped suppress the blaze, they have nothing but gratitude.

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