Being a fifth generation rancher, Roger Patenaude know a little something about hard work.
So, when the 2017 wildfires broke out, heavily impacting him and his family’s ranchlands, Patenaude, at 63 years old, set to work doing what needed to be done; fighting fire, recovering cattle, putting up fencing and salvage logging more than 35,000 metres of timber burned in the fires. He didn’t take one day off in six months, and only a couple days over the year.
“We’ve been working all year catching up and we’re just getting back on our feet now. It’s been gruelling and a grind, but hopefully there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.”
Dealing with the bureaucracy of government following an emergency on the scale of the 2017 wildfires, however, has been a whole other challenge.
“It’s been very disappointing.”
Patenuade said his financial losses from the fires are “close to $1 million,” but he has also suffered a personal toll fighting government.
“I was one of the guys that fell through the cracks because I stayed home to protect our properties and fight the fires and put water on the fields.”
Patenaude said in turn, the government has refused to defer tax on the income made from having to salvage log the timber, which his family has been nurturing and protecting for 60 years, once considered as money in the bank.
“It’s like having to cash out all your RRSPs at once … it put us in the 50 per cent bracket.”
The timber was also valued about 25 per cent less due the fires, one of which was caused by a backburn.
“The Lexington backfire caused most of our damage on our timber,” he said.
“They made a decision to save Fox Mountain and that’s fine, but they also took out our timber doing that, so don’t then put the cost of it on our backs.”
Aside from the financial losses, which so far the government refuses to cover, what Patenaude really wants to see changed is the permitting system in an emergency. He wants ranchers deemed an essential service during an emergency.
“I don’t believe they’ve fix it. I really don’t think they have a handle on it.”
Patenaude watched during the fires as his lowbeds carrying bulldozers destined for the Big Lake fire were turned around at 150 Mile and not let through the roadblocks. He recalls he couldn’t leave the ranch to get a pail of oil for his irrigation system for fear he couldn’t get back in.
“I want that to change, ranchers need the freedom to move in an emergency. You can’t just walk away from 550 head of cows. If I walked away from my cows in the middle of winter the SPCA would put me in jail, but they expect me to walk away from my cows in the middle of a fire? That I don’t understand. There is no one else more capable to look after my cows or my family.
“I just want the process fixed.”
Patenaude said if there was another fire, he would make the same choice to stay on his land.
“Our family’s been here for five generations. The regional government apparently knows better than I do, or my family does and comes in and tell you to leave?
“I would stay [again] and I think a lot more people would stay. You have the right to stay and protect your property.”