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Ranchers face struggle to raise cattle in the wake of Black Fire

Fire operations near Hillsboro protected structures as the Black Fire continued to burn
Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service
Fire operations near Hillsboro protected structures as the Black Fire continued to burn

A flood watch has been issued in the area around the Black Fire which has burned more than 300,000 acres in the southwest of the state.

The northern edge of the fire, northwest of Truth or Consequences, goes through cattle country. Flooding there would be a fresh catastrophe for ranchers who have already seen their land ravaged by the fire.

Rancher Megan Richardson estimates about a dozen ranchers she knows had land damaged in the blaze. She helped her neighbors move livestock.

"We're talking about, like, 3,000 head of cattle that are now having to be put on small areas of private property, because they have nowhere else to go," she said. The cattle are being fed hay because the grass isn't enough to feed them all, and hay is expensive and in short supply, she said.

The process of rounding them up took a community's hard work. "This country is very rough, and a lot of canyons and it's not just go get horseback and gather cattle," she said. "It takes time, and you've got to find them."

Richardson also said wildlife which live in the vast Gila National Forest have been affected.

"Owls' nests were burned up. We saw the wolf dens that, you know, there was nothing coming out of the holes where the fire burned," she said.

Now, the rain has dampened the fire and containment increased from 49% on Friday to 68% on Monday. But a flood watch is in effect until Wednesday morning and water could further damage the land, making the prospect of raising cattle there much more difficult for some time to come.

This coverage was made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners.

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.