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Wildfire recovery will be a long process

Agencies brief victims on what's ahead


Meeting with nearly a dozen government agencies, ranchers hurt by wildfires ask questions Wednesday about programs that can help. - Scott Hunter photo

Nearly a dozen agencies presented possibilities for long-term help to about 50 people affected by the fires on the Colville Indian Reservation, but none of them will be quick or easy.

The Tunk Block and North Star fires have burned about 600 square miles of forage and forest.

Imagine a mile-wide strip of charred ground stretching from Omak to Grants Pass near the southern edge of Oregon. Within that area are cattle, miles of disappeared fences, and millions of board feet of charred timber, all of it adding up to economic disaster.

The timber losses, which will take generations to recoup, will take time to tally. And ranchers who work that land may not know for months how many cattle are left, but they'll need fences when they find them, and that won't be cheap.

At the gym in Nespelem's school last Wednesday, agencies from the Colville Tribes to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture told farmers and ranchers hurt, or devastated, by the fires that help will be available, but most of it will come neither quickly nor easily.

One by one, they explained what their programs could and could not offer and that each one would require a separate application and shepherding through a process that, in some cases, can take years. Other programs can help more quickly with limited funds.

The USDA, alone, houses nine different programs, each of which may be able to help.

But not if you don't apply. That was a message repeated by most speakers. Not only that, funding for the programs can depend on applications for them. So those businesses, not only agricultural in nature, hurt by the fires or the smoke were urged to apply for help. Agencies don't know how big the disaster is, financially, until they do.

Many programs represented, though, do address agricultural losses, and they're largely based on acreage. So filling out an acreage report in the first place is important just to get on the list.

"If you think you're on a list," said Carlene Anderson, offering tips for long-term recovery, "it is not THE list" and you'll have to get on 10 or 15.

Case managers are still working on 150 open cases from last year's Carlton Complex disaster, she said.

All agencies offer to help fill out their paperwork, but some are there to guide fire victims through the whole process. Okanogan County Community Action is one. Call 509-923-1979 to get on a case management list. Or call the Okanogan Conservation District, which also offers "one-stop-shop" service at 509-422-0855.

Linda McLean, director of Colville Reservation WSU Extension (509-634-2304), who arranged the meeting Wednesday, said it was likely just the first and provided an overview of the process ahead.

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