Landowners in 18 Kansas counties ravaged by record-setting wildfires of 2016 and 2017 will be eligible to apply for a slice of a new $200,000 cost-sharing recovery fund created by the state’s conservation commission.
"We felt there was additional need out there," said David Jones, the state Department of Agriculture conservation division’s water program manager.
Dry conditions, low humidity and strong winds contributed to deadly fires that blackened more than 700,000 acres during March, which amounted to the largest wildfire in recorded Kansas history.
Last year, about 400,000 acres in Kansas burned when an Oklahoma blaze pushed across the state line into south-central Kansas.
In response to this year’s catastrophic wildfires, Gov. Sam Brownback declared a disaster emergency, and the Kansas Legislature responded with a special sales tax exemption to assist Kansans buying fencing supplies and other rebuilding materials.
State lawmakers said it could take years and millions of dollars to completely undo damage to ranching and farming infrastructure consumed in the fires.
Jones said the State Conservation Commission agreed during a September meeting to establish the Kansas Wildfire Cost Share Initiative. Under the initiative, local conservation districts will gather applications from landowners by the Oct. 31 deadline. Local conservation district officials will rank projects within their jurisdiction.
State conservation division officials will consider recommendations submitted by the 18 counties and allocate $200,000 drawn from the state water plan before the end of this year, he said.
The percentage of cost sharing responsibility for landowners will vary by county, Jones said. Priority will be given to addressing livestock water supply equipment, grass seeding, windbreaks and fencing that divides pastures used to control grazing.
Counties covered by the initiative are: Barber, Clark, Comanche, Ellis, Ellsworth, Ford, Hodgeman, Lane, Lincoln, McPherson, Meade, Ness, Reno, Rice, Rooks, Russell, Seward and Smith.
Jones said precedent existed for this type of recovery program. About 5 years ago, he said, drought triggered emergency aid to protect the water supply for livestock.