Sunday, June 16, 2024
HomeGrazing ManagementWhen Disaster Strikes

When Disaster Strikes

In January, I wrote about an ice storm that OP author John Marble was dealing with and how, having planned ahead for emergencies like this, he was able to help his neighbors stay warm when the electricity was knocked out for days. Things seemed in good shape when he left on day seven of the storm for a long-planned, month-long trip to Micronesia to visit his adopted family there and to spread the ashes of a friend and of his wife, Cris.

When he returned home, he found hundreds of trees down on fences, with more than a mile of barb wire smashed flat and some significant damage by downed trees. At first he took it in stride. Barb wire fences are pretty easy to mend and all of those trees could become firewood, a handy thing to have in a country that has real winters.

Then reality set in. When he took a closer look he discovered 10,000 trees were either laying on the ground or had their tops broken off or were simply waiting for the next wind storm to finish the job. An entire hillside of trees that John had planted in the late 1980s, were damaged, destroyed, or dead. These were trees that were slated for commercial thinning this summer. Now, that was obviously off the table.

Capturing the scale of the destruction in a photo is hard. I took this photo on a tour of the forest. Everywhere I looked were downed trees, others that were snapped off 30 feet up. Very few healthy trees remained.

The first few days were really hard.

“Those trees were kind of like my babies. I planted them when I was still a young man, and I was looking forward to managing them for the rest of my days. Now, my forest looked like a massacre scene.”

John wrote about those trees and his plans for the future in this OP piece.

As the shock wore off, John began thinking about who he could call on for help. John once wrote about how important allies have always been to his success, and now he reached out to them to solve this new problem. He got on the phone with his professional forester, Matt. Together they toured the forest and came up with a plan to salvage all of the dead and damaged trees and send them to the mill. Those funds will more than pay for the reforestation of the land. The land will be returned to production. Things will be OK.

John says he learned a few things from his experience with the ice storm:

John recommends “The Black Swan”, a book about dealing with unexpected and unexplainable challenges that we all will face.

“There are disasters that will occur and you cannot do a thing about them. They might be acts of God or Mother Nature or they might be caused by war or some other issue. They are almost random and they will happen at a most inopportune moment. You simply must be prepared (mentally and emotionally) to deal with them.

“For disasters like the ice storm, fires, floods, or death of a partner, the degree of your successful response will largely be determined by the people, (your allies) that you can call on. My forester Matt will make all the arrangements to market, harvest, and ship those logs to the mill. Next, he will find the new baby trees and arrange for the replanting crew to show up next winter. These are not things I have the ability to do myself, and I feel extremely grateful to have Matt on my team.”

“The most difficult thing to deal with during a disaster is our emotions. Gaining control mentally, beginning a planning process, seeking counsel from others, taking positive steps toward the future: these are the things that help move us forward during hard times.”

For more on how to be mentally and emotional prepared for dealing with disasters, check out this week’s article collection.

Dealing with the Ups and Downs of Farming and Ranching

The project to remove the trees and prepare for replanting is beginning this week. John sent these pictures and descriptions of the equipment and what will happen next.

“It is very difficult to get scale on these things, but they are huge. The first one is a “feller/buncher”. It has a huge arm with some hardware that grabs the tree and cuts it, then lays it aside. You can see the cutter head and grapples in the second photo.

The next machine is a large excavator, aka “shovel” that has special grapples instead of a bucket. This one can pick up logs and move them around, or load a truck.

There will be one more shovel coming today, plus a special piece of equipment called a “stroker”, which does just what the name implies. It works at the landing site, using a jaw-like tool to zip off all the limbs and then cuts the log to length.

John is moving his cattle across 8 to 10 pastures right now to graze down the areas near where the logging is going on. This is to reduce potential fire fuels and fire danger from the work being done. It makes a wreck of his rotation, but ensures that the drivers of the logging trucks that will be arriving won’t have to open and close gates.


Need a good read? John writes fiction too! As the editor (and author of one story in the book) I’m biased, but I think you’ll like this. You can pick it up at Amazon.

This is a story about the REAL west. The characters are authentic and compelling. Having worked on ranches in this part of the country I felt I knew every one of them. The author knows his way around ranching, and knows how to tell a good story.   ~ Dave Pratt

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


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