Texas gets $13 million for wildfire relief

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramJanuary 19, 2012 

Less than a year after wildfires scorched millions of acres in Texas, claiming lives and destroying property, federal officials announced Wednesday that the state will receive nearly $13 million to help rebuild.

Texas is among 33 states to receive part of the $308 million earmarked for repairing damage caused by last year's floods, hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes and other disasters, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

"Landowners, individuals and communities have endured incredible hardships because of the intensity and volume of natural disasters that have impacted their livelihoods," Vilsack said in a statement. "America's farmers and rural communities are vitally important to our nation's economy, producing the food, feed, fiber and fuel that continue to help us grow.

"This funding will help to rebuild communities, while states can use the funds to carry out emergency recovery measures. At the same time, this assistance keeps farmers on the farm, ranchers on the ranch and landowners on their land, helping to keep American agriculture profitable."

In mid-April, a wind-driven firestorm erupted west of Fort Worth around Possum Kingdom Lake, burning around 150,000 acres, more than 150 homes and 95 percent of Possum Kingdom State Park. Smaller fires burned through the summer, and big ones erupted Labor Day weekend: again around Possum Kingdom, and in Bastrop County, near Austin.

Gov. Rick Perry and others criticized the Obama administration when it didn't immediately declare a major disaster for Texas but did so for Alabama and other states. Federal officials ultimately did issue such declarations for Texas -- for the April and May wildfires and for the September ones.

About the aid announced Wednesday, "my only disappointment would be that this is really just a drop in the bucket," said state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, whose district is near Possum Kingdom. "We send so much money to D.C. and it's frustrating that you can't get a reasonable amount back when a disaster happens.

"But every amount helps."

Texas will receive $6.4 million from the Farm Service Agency's Emergency Conservation Program to help clear debris from farmland, provide water for livestock, and repair fences and other structures. Only land with new conservation problems caused by a disaster is eligible for the money. Texas is eligible because of the wildfires.

From the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Emergency Watershed Protection Program, the state will receive $6.5 million to help with restoration and public safety efforts, such as repairing levees and structures and reseeding damaged areas.

"This is good news for farmers, landowners and communities in Texas," said Perry spokesman Josh Havens. "The financial and technical assistance made available ... will help Texans rebuild and repair land and infrastructure."

To read more, visit www.star-telegram.com.

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