ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
It's nearly three months since a blizzard dumped about four feet of snow on rural southeastern Colorado, paralyzing towns there and stranding livestock. National Guard helicopters dropped loads of hay to starving cattle. Still, the state estimates that at least 10,000 farm animals died.
NPR's Jeff Brady went to the region to check in on the recovery.
JEFF BRADY: Baca County Commissioner Troy Crane says he flew over the place he's called home all his life right after the storm hit. He says it looked like one huge sea of white. You couldn't see anything but the utility poles. And the snow finished melting only a few weeks back.
Commissioner TROY CRANE (Baca County, Colorado): It was our Katrina. We're used to snow but not that much at one time.
(Soundbite of beeping)
BRADY: All over the region crews are rebuilding roads damaged by both the storm and the heavy equipment that was required to dig everyone out. In Commissioner Crane's county most of the roads are dirt. Only 4,000 people live there. Getting rid of the snow cut deeply into the county's two million dollar annual roads budget.
Comm. CRANE: We've spent about $600,000 through the road and bridge budget on snow removal. And that's going to be a small portion probably of getting the roads back to their normal condition.
BRADY: But it's ranchers who are paying the heaviest price because of the blizzard.
(Soundbite of cow mooing)
BRADY: Rancher Clarence Bulkley is calling his cows to come follow his truck. The back is loaded with protein-rich pellets. Sometimes the animals will come more quickly if he honks. Once he starts spreading the pellets, they break into a run.
(Soundbite of truck engine)
BRADY: During the winter, Bulkley typically leaves his older animals in the ravines where they feed on grass. But when the storms hit, he had to bring them all down near his house and feed them expensive hay and a liquid protein supplement.
Mr. CLARENCE BULKLEY: I suppose that was our biggest change was having to buy that much additional feed plus the labor to put it out.
BRADY: Do you have any idea how much that cost you?
Mr. BULKLEY: Yeah, about $70,000.
BRADY: Then there's the miles of fences that need to be repaired. Bulkley figures the storm will cost him two years of profits. But that doesn't include some rebuilding costs.
Mr. BULKLEY: Well, it's about a 40 by 80 foot barn where we keep cattle in the lower part and put hay in the top. And the snow piled up on it so high that it caved it in.
BRADY: Bulkley says the cattle losses will hit hard too. He's not sure yet how many animals died. He won't know that until his herd is gathered up for branding in a few months. But he already knows he lost some calves before they were born.
Mr. BULKLEY: That brown cow up there on the hedge there - she's licking herself right now. See her? That's the cow - I'd say she aborted about three weeks ago. That black cow right there with the white tail. She aborted about the same day as that cow.
BRADY: Bulkley says fewer cows will become pregnant next year because of the stress they suffered this year. Colorado officials asked the federal government for disaster assistance, but there isn't a program in place for a blizzard like this where cows and not crops are lost. The state's congressional delegation is trying to get some money including in an appropriations bill. But that hasn't happened yet.
Mr. BULKLEY: In our particular instance it would help. There are young people trying to get started that it would be key.
BRADY: Bulkley says some ranchers already were stretched pretty thin with big loans. He says this will put a few of them out of business. But he says there is one silver lining. All that melted snow left a lot of moisture in the ground. The grass for his animals this year will be bright green and full of nutrients.
Jeff Brady, NPR News, Lamar, Colorado.
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