– Texas AgriLife Extension Service has pledged support for “Operation New Fences,” a new volunteer relief effort for Southeast Texas ranchers affected by Hurricane Ike.
The initiative was outlined on March 5 by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples during a press conference held in Houston.
Staples designated April 25 to be dedicated toward efforts to rebuild approximately 1,700 miles of fence line in Chambers, Galveston, Jefferson, Liberty and Orange counties.
“It's only fitting that we go back to our volunteers to help the producers in these devastated counties get back on course," said Dr. Ed Smith, director of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. "It was volunteers who were first on the scene to help soon after Hurricane Ike left thousands of cattle stranded and thousands of acres in ruin.”
Smith was referring to AgriLife Extension's key role in livestock rescue efforts during “Operation No Fences,” a massive post-Ike livestock rescue effort.
Operation No Fences began the day after 20-foot storm surges from Ike destroyed almost all of the fences throughout Chambers and Jefferson counties, forcing livestock to make a desperate run for high ground. Rescue and restoration efforts from that program continue to the present day.
During Operation No Fences, AgriLife Extension worked in cooperation with Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Animal Health Commission, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Independent Cattlemen's Association and other agencies to help ranchers affected by the disaster.
Operation No Fences resulted in the delivery of more than 9,000 hay bales, 165 tons of feed and 400 water troughs for ranchers who were unable to feed their cattle, according to Staples.
Staples called on all Texans to “lend a helping hand to ranchers in rural Southeast Texas still dealing with the devastation caused by Hurricane Ike almost six months ago,” including assistance through donating items such as fencing materials and livestock feed.
“Hurricane Ike landed on Texas soil six months ago, but its wake of destruction still exists,” Staples said. “The massive storm destroyed the land, homes and livelihoods of Southeast Texas ranchers, but it did not destroy their spirit. These cattle raisers need our help to resume business and restore their agricultural production, which impacts the state economy by more than $130 million.”
While approximately 30,000 cattle roamed the affected area before Ike, the hurricane's impact took such a severe toll that now only about 7,000 are able to graze in the region as a result of fence loss and high soil salinity, he added.
“AgriLife Extension has a well-oiled network of volunteers throughout the state, and I am confident that we can come to the aid of our fellow citizens in April," Smith added. "I look forward to seeing the impact these people make to improve lives and help restore the agricultural economy."
Smith also encouraged ranchers wanting assistance to sign up through the new Web site created by the state's agriculture department, http://www. TexasAgriculture.gov, and clicking on “Operation New Fences.”
According to the TDA, the site also provides the opportunity to donate specific needed supplies, including fences posts, barbed wire, fencing staples and hay bales.
Smith added that those wanting to make a monetary donation toward helping ranchers affected by the disaster could do so through the Texas AgriLife Web site at http://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu under the heading Donating to "New Fences" Hurricane Ike Horse and Cattle Relief.
“During ‘Operation No Fences,' we received an overwhelming response from Texans, and their generous donations helped save thousands of cattle from dying,” Staples said. “Today, we begin ‘Operation New Fences' and believe through a coordinated response with all of our partners, we can help our fellow Texans recuperate from this storm and continue with their lives.”