Tinian ranchers still rounding up cattle after Yutu

USUALLY, raising cattle on Tinian is a remarkably low-impact and low-maintenance process. Many local ranchers supplement their incomes and save at the grocery store by tending to their herds, supplying themselves with a source of fresh local beef that can be eaten, sold, or traded.

“Grass-fed tropical pasture beef is highly sustainable,” said Lawerence Duponcheel, secretary for the Tinian Cattlemen’s Association. “Grass grows in the tropics all year round, so I’ll basically bring water to them, maintain the fence, and that’s about it.” 

That said, maintaining fences to enclose the island’s approximately 1500 head of cattle can require heavy equipment that tends to be in short supply. Before Yutu, Tinian’s 43 family-owned cattle ranches were already well-worn. After Yutu, the situation became dire.

“The typhoon broke the fences,” Duponcheel told Variety. “So the cattle have been escaping and roaming around.”

He said most of the damage was caused by fallen trees, though many older fences were simply pushed over by the heavy winds. To make matters worse, roads were also littered with trees, poles, and other heavy debris, making it impossible for farmers to access and repair their ranches.

The cattle faced issues of their own. When broken power lines and failed generators prompted villagers to ration water, the cattle were forced to go without. And because the Category 5 storm stripped leaves from trees, there was no shady respite from the dry heat that followed Yutu.

“Often times there’s not a lot of livestock that are killed during events like this, but this time there was,” said Duponcheel. “We know because you can smell them.”

Some loose cattle wandered near roads, creating a hazardous situation for cattle and drivers alike, particularly at night.

“We have had a few cases where people have fortunately not been injured but their cars were really damaged,” said Duponcheel.

“Ultimately the danger is with cattle running around — especially the bulls,” he continued. “They get really crazy when it comes to other cows in heat, and they will break fences. All it takes is one little break in the fence and if the whole herd follows the matrix out, there’s no guarantee that they’ll ever come back.”

“Plus there’s the problem of poaching, theft… and sometimes people just chase them around.”

Because Yutu devastated so many homes and livelihoods across the island, it’s been only in the last week that the people of Tinian have had a chance to turn their attention to the cattle.

“FEMA ultimately came through with a generator that runs 24 hours a day so now we have water for the cattle,” said Duponcheel. “And we’re fortunate that the Tinian Cattlemen’s Assocation, the Governor’s Office, the Tinian Mayor’s Office, CUC, DoD and Joint Marianas brought some equipment — that’s really helping out.”

But he feels that the government could and should do significantly more to assist the ranchers in preparing for storms like Yutu.

“When it comes to a disaster like this, it would be nice to have some sort of financial assistance or equipment services, for instance to bring over another payloader to help clear the access areas so people could fix their fences or get these gigantic trees out of the way,” he said.

He added that many ranchers don’t risk investing in their own heavy equipment because of the lease terms offered by the Department of Public Lands.

“There’s always a shortage of equipment services, especially for leased properties — people aren’t encouraged to buy a tractor because their leases are limited to one year. So the government could do better by giving us longer lease terms and reducing the costs of the leases.”

“Right now there’s no lease in the leaseback area, so everybody’s really in limbo,” he said. “So if we could get longer leases we could get USDA funds, and different types of programs could come into play that would help support the producers, such as providing equipment, tree removal around fence line areas and perhaps disaster recovery.”

“There could be a lot more done on many levels in terms of supporting farmers post disaster,” said Duponcheel, “but of course, the people and the homes are the priority. I don’t mean to make it sound like we need to drop everything and go run out there to the ranches but these are things that ultimately could be done.”

Source: Marianas Variety :

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