October is usually a pleasant month with moderate temps, beautiful foliage, and good football games, but I'm sure many ranch families will never feel the same about October after the devastating blizzard, Atlas, which moved through the state on Oct. 4-6. Nebraska's northwest corner was hit particularly hard by the storm as were large parts of South Dakota and Wyoming. It took several days for reports of the losses to arrive from the region. When reports of livestock losses began to emerge the figures sounded outlandish and inflated. I am writing this 10 days after the blizzard began, but we still have no clear idea of the number of dead livestock in the region.
Images of dead cattle littering the sides of the roads, in draws and gullies, and the like are everywhere but even they can't really tell the tale of loss which is being felt by ranch families across the region who have lost more than just their livelihood. Every ranch family which lives on the land has a personal relationship with the livestock which they tend.
Most ranchers will be able to tell you about their favorite cow who comes running to the pickup when the rancher drives up to see if he has brought her a treat. While we are all somewhat familiar with death on the ranch -- whether it be an animal struck by lightening, a calf which doesn't survive the birthing process or an animal which has injured itself and needs to be put down -- the scope of this loss is more than most of us can really get our heads around.
The financial costs of the blizzard are being tallied and will affect the region for many years. Young families with car payments, student loans, and operating notes at the local bank will be the first affected since the collateral for their loans has disappeared.
Older ranchers may be able to survive but 20 years of work and capital accumulation has disappeared. A large number of ranching families will be forced off the ranch unless quick and immediate assistance is provided to them. How will people pay their property taxes? How will they buy food and fuel with no income coming in for a few years to meet their obligations?
Since Congress is deadlocked on the Farm Bill, there are no current fund available to help these ranchers. Although I hope that Congress will come to its senses and reopen the government, there may still be no help coming from Washington. We may have to do it all ourselves.
I would ask all of you to consider generously supporting the Rancher Relief Fund which was established through Steve Cleveland at the Chadron Community Foundation.
Donations can be sent to the Cattlemen Relief Fund, P.O. Box 1125, Chadron, NE 69337.
If you are able to make a large donation to the fund, please make that donation. If you are on a budget and can only spare $5, please make that donation. While we can't help with the emotional losses that will affect our neighbors for many years, we can help by providing some financial assistance.
I would also ask that you remember all these ranching families in your prayers. Reach out to your friends and neighbors at this time when they need you most.
As always, I value your input, and welcome phone calls, emails and personal visits from you.
-- Al Davis represents district 43 -- most of north-northwest Nebraska including Dawes, Sheridan and Cherry counties -- in the Nebraska Legislature. Contact him at Sen. Al Davis, State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509. (402) 471-2628. firstname.lastname@example.org