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Ranchers hoping for help from FEMA may be waiting in vain

9:06 PM, Jan 8, 2007   |    comments
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Last Friday, as part of their requests for federal assistance following back to back blizzards, state officials requested aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help ranchers recover their livelihoods.

“We're anticipating that we have a serious disaster down in Southeaster Colorado," said outgoing Colorado Agricultural Commissioner Don Ament.

Ament says he is unable to put his finger on the dollar amount needed because many ranchers are still having a tough time trying to locate their cattle.

Ament says thousands of cattle are likely to be buried under more than three feet of snow. He estimates roughly 1,050 ranchers are in need of federal assistance. Ament anticipates that federal money will be needed when carcasses will be recovered and will need to be disposed of.

“Those ranchers need money now, they need checks in their hands,” Ament said.

Currently, Ament is hoping FEMA will give assistance to ranchers to help feed livestock, recover lost cattle and reimburse costs for snow removal so ranchers can reach their cows. There is one tremendous hurdle, FEMA is not authorized to offer such help to farmers or ranchers.

"Right now there's no FEMA program to provide any sort of assistance to farmers or ranchers and there never has been,” said FEMA Spokesman Ed Conley.

Traditionally the U.S. Department of Agriculture handles disaster relief for ranchers and farmers. Conley says special legislation is needed to transfer that logistical power from the USDA to FEMA.

"The United States Department of Agriculture has programs to assist farmers and ranchers, that usually is the federal agency that the state would go to," said Conley.

“USDA's programs are all loans, these guys don't need a loan," said Ament.

Conley says legislation on the matter is pending.

Meanwhile, many ranchers are looking for any assistance. While Ament expressed confidence that the federal government will give a hand, he also added that it is likely his successor will find the solutions. Ament leaves office on Tuesday, as the new governor and his administration take over.

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