Capital press. (Salem, OR) 19??-current, December 22, 2017, Page 7, Image 7

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    December 22, 2017
Coping with fire loss, looking for solutions
Rancher wants
DNR to protect
“Firefighters don’t under-
stand who owns what and
that fields or what looks like
an old fence to us maybe very
valuable to the rancher,” he
said. “We need to get with the
rancher, find out where the
roads and water are and do
some point protection and be
more aggressive.”
Capital Press
Like many ranchers around
the West, Molly Linville is
trying to recover from a hor-
rific fire season, but she’s also
is trying to change how fire-
fighters view rangeland and
a state wildfire policy that al-
lows them to let it burn.
“Firefighters look out
here and they don’t see any-
thing. It’s wasteland in their
minds. I thought they didn’t
care. I said I lost everything
and I got blank looks. What
I’ve learned is they literally
don’t understand the value of
rangeland,” says Linville, 42,
who operates the 6,000-acre
KV Ranch, mostly by her-
self while her husband works
Most of the state’s 4.5 mil-
lion acres of rangeland “is
breakfast, lunch and dinner”
for cattle, sheep and all sorts
of wildlife, she said.
The ranch, which next year
will have been in her hus-
band’s family 100 years, and
the nearby hamlet of Palisades
are up an out-of-the-way val-
ley, known as the Moses Cou-
lee, about 25 miles southeast
of Wenatchee in central Wash-
ington state.
Linville saw one of sever-
al lightning strikes on a hill-
top about a mile west of her
house on June 26 that ignited
the 37,891-acre Sutherland
Canyon and Straight Hollow
wildfires. She called firefight-
ers, who saved her house and
other structures. With her
border collie and using her
ATV, she was able to save her
60 mother cows, plus calves
and four bulls with no time to
Coping with losses
But most of the grazing
land — 5,500 acres — the
Linvilles own burned along
with 14 miles of fencing. Af-
ter consulting soil scientists
and other ranchers who have
gone through fires, they de-
cided it’s best not to graze the
land for two years.
They had been planning to
expand their herd by retaining
heifers this fall, but instead
they sold the heifers and half
of their mother cows for lack
of grazing. It will set their
program back five years.
“The thing we lost the most
by selling these cows is all the
selective breeding I’ve been
working on for years,” Lin-
ville said. “I have these cows
where they are willing to find
their way up through the ba-
salt cliffs and graze on top.
They get fat on bunch grasses.
Their feed conversion on this
dry rangeland is excellent.”
She said area ranchers be-
lieve that firefighters squab-
bling over fire district bound-
aries and not being proactive
caused them to miss several
opportunities to stop the fire
before it significantly spread.
“It clearly didn’t go well,”
she said. “I wanted to figure
out what went wrong and why
and how to fix it.”
Not required to fight
She met with area fire
chiefs and discovered a lack
of appreciation of the value of
rangeland. Another problem
is that two-thirds of the ranch
and a large portion of the Mo-
ses Coulee aren’t in any fire
But the biggest problem
was a state Department of
Natural Resources policy
that does not require DNR
to fight fires on more than
600,000 acres of DNR-owned
non-timbered rangeland in
Eastern Washington. Fighting
fire on those lands is a low
“That was shocking — that
our state Department of Nat-
ural Resources doesn’t need
to protect natural resources.
We spend millions of dollars
breeding (endangered Co-
lumbia Basin) pygmy rabbits
in a zoo to release into Grant
County and an agency like
DNR can just let habitat burn.
If a rancher did that, at bare
No man’s land
Dan Wheat/Capital Press
Molly Linville feeds her cows at the KV Ranch near Palisades, Wash., on Nov. 29. She’s reduced the herd after losing 91 percent of her
grazing ground for the next two years due to last summer’s Sutherland Canyon Fire.
Dan Wheat/Capital Press
Molly Linville and her border collie, Stinker, on June 29 near the spot where they herded 60 mother
cows and their calves two miles to safety as a wildfire swept through the area.
minimum he would be fined,”
Linville said.
“This is not an indictment
against DNR firefighters. It’s
DNR policy. It makes DNR a
terrible neighbor because they
just watch it burn onto your
place,” she said.
Linville, who has a bach-
elor’s degree in wildlife biol-
ogy, said she intends to seek
legislation requiring DNR to
fight fire on all of its range-
Loren Torgerson, DNR
policy adviser on wildfire,
said it’s true most DNR trust
lands in the Columbia Basin
don’t receive fire protection
because they are not forest
land and not “assessed” for
protection. To change that
would take legislation to as-
sess them, he said. Some of
those lands may also pay a fire
district for protection, he said.
When a fire occurs on
those lands, DNR decides
whether to fight it depending
on circumstances and whether
it would take resources away
from lands DNR assesses for
protection, Torgerson said.
DNR’s statutory responsi-
bility is to protect forest lands.
Wildlife habitat protection is
“a byproduct,” he said.
The DNR Forest Fire Pro-
tection Assessment is collect-
ed with property taxes at a
minimum rate of $17.70 per
acre on private and state for-
est lands, generating about
$10 million annually. It is part
of approximately $27 million
for fire suppression in DNR’s
annual budget. The balance
comes from other state and
federal funds.
DNR is also consider-
ing reducing wildfire fuels
through a new initiative and
is aware of wildfire impacts
on non-forested land and their
value to landowners, Torger-
son said.
“We don’t take that light-
ly but sometimes we have to
burn out areas that we can’t
safely bring under control.
Those are tough decisions,”
he said.
He said he has no first-
hand knowledge of decisions
made in fighting the Suther-
land Canyon Fire and that
it’s hard to second-guess fire
commanders’ decisions after
the fact. They have to consid-
er safety and firefighters’ level
of training, he said.
Leavenworth, Linville is em-
barking on a series of meet-
ings and setting up curriculum
to educate firefighters on the
importance of rangeland to
livestock and wildlife.
She has spoken to regional
fire chiefs and the Washington
State Fire Defense Commit-
tee, which includes the state
fire marshal, emergency of-
ficials and representatives of
the nine fire defense regions
in the state.
She emphasizes cattle,
wildlife and the tie to the
state’s economy.
Cattle and calves produce
revenues of $700 million to
$850 million annually, making
them the third- or four-highest
value agricultural commodity
in the state, according to the
USDA National Agricultural
Statistics Service.
A 2014 Washington State
University Extension analysis
concluded the beef industry
contributes $5.7 billion to the
state economy each year.
“About 1 million head of
cattle are slaughtered in the
state every year, and people
don’t understand those cows
are not born in feedlots. Most
begin their lives on rangeland
or timber grazing allotments,”
Linville said.
O’Brien said several things
came to light when he met
with Linville after the Suther-
land Canyon Fire.
“I felt us as fire services
didn’t have an understanding
of ranch land, whether range-
land or not, and costs associ-
ated with it,” he said.
have been “well received” by
fire chiefs and “we are work-
ing to put them into lesson
plan form,” O’Brien said.
Where local ranchers say
firefighters dropped the ball
in the Sutherland Canyon Fire
was when the fire descend-
ed Frank’s Canyon on DNR
land, crossed onto KV Ranch
land and then crossed Pali-
sades Road and spread onto
thousands of acres in Grant
It’s also where Douglas
County Fire District No. 2
ends and the rest of the valley,
including two-thirds of KV
Ranch, are in no fire district.
It’s a no man’s land that may
have been a factor in firefight-
ing delays, Linville said.
There are numerous other
no man’s lands in Washing-
ton, Oregon and Idaho. Areas
are too remote and vast and
their tax base too small for
local fire districts to want to
annex them.
Valley residents are con-
sidering forming a fire associ-
ation under the U.S. Bureau of
Land Management.
The big thing, Linville
said, is it would allow the fed-
eral government to surplus fire
equipment to the association.
It also would place ranchers
under BLM fire command or
whatever fire command BLM
Linville sees value in her
Even on rangeland where
there are no cows, she says,
fires need to be nipped quick-
ly because grass and sage-
brush are fuels that can give a
fire momentum in a hurry.
While the Linvilles’ loss
is significant, it would be far
worse and perhaps force them
out of business if it were not
for the fact that they have no
Firefighter education
With the help of Kel-
ly O’Brien, chief of Chelan
County Fire District No. 3 in