Providing calm after the storm
Those wishing to donate to causes benefiting ranchers affected by an October blizzard already have charities set up in South Dakota, but soon they could see a benefit for North Dakota ranchers.
At a forum hosted by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., in Hettinger on Tuesday, Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association, said the NDSA has received inquiries about how to help ranchers in her state. She said the organization will discuss options for setting up a relief fund next week.
"There are a lot of people who have realized or who are in the process of realizing the catastrophic losses that livestock producers experienced in that blizzard," Ellingson said. "People want to help. Some people have talked about wanting to help those affected the most, many of whom are in South Dakota, while others have asked about North Dakota-related projects. We want to take a look at that and what the possibilities might be."
In South Dakota, a charity called the "Rancher Relief Fund" has been set up in conjunction with the Black Hills Community Area Foundation to help ranchers and farmers who incurred losses during Blizzard Atlas, which dumped up to 4 feet of snow in parts of North Dakota and South Dakota.
With the popularity of the South Dakota relief fund -- its Facebook page had nearly 7,500 likes as of Thursday afternoon -- one question fielded by Heitkamp in Hettinger this week was whether a similar fund would be set up specifically for North Dakota ranchers.
"I think if you want to do something for North Dakota producers, you wait to see what the stockmen's association does," Heitkamp said. "There are a lot of people who want to help people in North Dakota. I grew up in the Red River Valley and I've spent a lot of time (in southwest North Dakota), but I've never seen anything like this storm. It's just so unusual and so horrific. This is one of the worst livestock disasters in the history of the nation."
During the meeting, Heitkamp stressed that a finished farm bill -- which has been sent to a conference committee with representatives from the U.S. Senate and House scheduled to meet next week -- would mean a renewed Livestock Indemnity Program could be utilized retroactively by ranchers who suffered losses and kept appropriate records of those losses.
Heitkamp predicted that a farm bill would likely be finalized before year's end.
Ellingson pointed out that livestock producers have faced a myriad of challenges since the storm hit, from the partial government shutdown and a lack of available Farm Service Agency resources for a time to the repercussions of stress related to the loss of livelihood.
On Thursday, the NDSA rolled out new resource links -- found on the organization's home page at www.ndstockmen.org -- geared toward the LIP program, carcass disposal tactics, financial mediation and mental health, and general support for a laundry list of disaster-related issues.
"This storm and the losses suffered because of it have not only been economically taxing, but also emotionally taxing," Ellingson said. "We want to continue to push people toward those resources that are available. In the public, I think it's also important to show support for livestock producers and to recognize the losses that some of them have incurred."
In addition to monetary donations, an organization called "Heifers for South Dakota" has been founded with the goal of helping ranchers in the hardest-hit areas of South Dakota by accepting donated cattle.
"This is great program geared mainly toward helping some of the younger ranchers that were affected by the storm," said Joey Kessel, a Billings County resident who, along with his wife, Jen, have been handling donations from North Dakotans to the cause.
"Ty Linger of Miles City, Mont., started this program and I think we've had about 450 head of cattle donated so far. We're taking donations of bred heifers and cows and yearling heifers."