Northeastern B.C. farmers need help repairing cattle fences damaged by wildfires

Wendy Bahm is one of several farmers whose ranch lost fencing to the Stoddart Creek and Red Creek May wildfires. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images - image credit)
Wendy Bahm is one of several farmers whose ranch lost fencing to the Stoddart Creek and Red Creek May wildfires. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images - image credit)

Wendy Bahm and her husband have owned their ranch for over 40 years. Located about 45 kilometres from Fort St. John in northeastern B.C., it sits on private land and is home to approximately 200 cattle.

In mid-May, the Peace River Regional District issued evacuation orders that have since expired for more than 1,800 properties, including the Bahms' farm, due to the Red Creek and Stoddart Creek wildfires.

Despite being advised to leave their home immediately, the couple decided to stay and fight the fire.

Wendy Bahm says they managed to protect their house and all of their cattle but lost about two kilometres of wooden fencing and 400 bales of hay.

Bahm says it will take a significant amount of time and personal expense to rebuild the fences. Until they're restored, their cattle cannot be released to pasture and will have to rely on the hay that would have been stored for winter feeding.

"We can easily run out of hay. If we don't get enough hay up this year, that makes us short going into winter because we're already feeding into our winter supply."

Submitted by Wendy Bahm
Submitted by Wendy Bahm

Considering the challenges facing Bahm and other ranchers, the Fort St. John and District Chamber of Commerce recently sent a letter to B.C.'s Ministry of Agriculture. In it, they ask for provincial funding to help them rebuild their fences.

"In the northeast, cattle are sent to the range on June 1 annually. Many cannot meet that deadline because the fires damaged or destroyed fences and infrastructure," wrote Chamber of Commerce CEO Kathleen Connolly.

Connolly also says the burned fences pose a threat to wildlife, as newborn ungulates can become entangled when trying to escape a fire.

"Removing burnt fences and executing new fence construction in a prompt order is absolutely critical," she wrote.

Temporary fencing from province not enough: ranchers

In response to the situation, the B.C. government said in an email to CBC News that most of the lost fences are on Crown land, and they are providing affected ranches with temporary plastic electric fencing.

Bahm says the plastic fencing is not strong enough to protect her livestock from predators.

Thomas Stahl, the CEO of Stoddart Creek Water Services, a company assisting the Peace River Regional District with the installation of the temporary electric fences and whose own farm escaped damage, says fences are crucial to safeguarding cattle.

"With beef prices being at an all-time high and these [ranchers and farmers] suffering from the loss of this infrastructure, it's a good recipe for more disaster," he told host Carolina de Ryk on CBC's Daybreak North.

The province says it is collaborating with the B.C. Cattlemen's Association to assess the effect of the wildfires on farmers and determine the amount of financial support that will be needed to help them recover.