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This Isn't Over: Hurricane Laura

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

***Originally Published in Gulf Coast Cattleman***

Hurricane Laura devastated ranchers in southwest Louisiana when she made landfall as a high category four hurricane with sustained winds of 150mph just after midnight on Aug. 27, 2020.

“The people down here have been through hurricanes before, but this one was more devastating than anything we’ve seen before,” said Dale Cambre, Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association president. “This storm destroyed barns, fences, fields, and livestock that were still there. In most places, ranchers are going to have to rebuild from the ground up. That’s starting over with new fences, new gates, new barns, and trying to replenish their hay supply.”

Conner Hays, manager of the Gray Ranch in Cameron Parish, said ranchers will need at least a year if not longer to recover from the destruction of Hurricane Laura.

“This is catastrophic,” Hays said. “Some guys are going to be set behind for a year, if not longer. It comes down to what kind of resources the individual has… Do they have the machinery to get in and clean fence lines off? Do they have it in their budget to contract out fence work? If you have the means you may be alright through the winter. But if not, you’re going to have to take a loan out if you even have that option. Some may even be forced to go out of business.”

To grasp the full scope of the long-term impact of Hurricane Laura, one must understand the unique range management system in southwest Louisiana. Ranchers summer their cattle further north and move them down to marsh pastures along the coast in the winter. Now, those marsh pasture fences are largely nonexistent leaving ranchers with no rangeland for the coming winter months.

“We summer cattle up here, but we winter them in the marsh,” said Burl Baty, a rancher in Cameron parish who took in approximately 700 head of neighbors’ cattle. “We start taking them down to the marsh around October 15 when the storms start settling down for the year. Our mar