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Rosebud County rancher regroups after losing crops to wildfire

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Posted at 8:39 AM, Aug 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-18 10:39:24-04

FORSYTH — In the last few weeks, wildfires have destroyed dozens of ranches in southeast Montana, but few have had it worse than Rosebud County rancher Clint McRae.

Just days ago, the Richard Spring fire destroyed three-quarters of McRae’s stockpiled hay, along with everything he was growing, and some grass that his 400 head of cattle could graze on.

Losing everything leaves McRae in a tough position with the future of his ranch.

“With fires in the past, usually you have somewhere to go, you can maybe go to your winter grass if your summer grass burns. This fire is different because it got both of them, we don’t have anywhere to go with it. I got offered to take cattle to a feed lot in Nebraska, which I could do, but at the end of the winter when I bring them home, we don’t have any grass for them to come back to," he said.

"If we could sell half, keep half, maybe try to feed hay to get them by, but in the spring, we need to let that burned ground rest. It’s a tough decision, this is the first time we’ve ever had to do this, but I don’t think we have much other choice than to sell out cattle, take that money, put it in the bank, let it sit there, and then in a couple years try to buy back,” said McRae.

The fire also came within about 40 feet of McRae’s home, destroying his feed shed, and multiple corrals. This left McRae without power or running water for a few days.

McRae said he had an extra generator that he could have used to get him running water, but his cattle were out of water as well, so he made the decision to use the generator to get water for his cattle instead of him and his family.

The community is pitching in to try and get affected ranchers the help they need by asking for hay donations.

“These are people we don’t know. I guess that’s Montana, we all stick together. It’s good to see and it helps people like us get through this,” said McRae.

In the coming days, McRae will have to move his cattle somewhere that wasn’t burned so they can graze before being sold.

“We’ve been through this before, we’re going to get through this again. There's going to be trials in the future, but you just have to grit your teeth and go on the best you can,” said McRae.

McRae also says that he is grateful to the firefighters that helped keep his house from burning, and to everyone who has worked to restore power to the community.

If you would like to donate hay you can call the Rosebud County Cattlewomen at (406)600-5610.