In Greek mythology, Atlas was the Titan that supported the world on his shoulders. In recent history, Atlas was the name of the powerful early-season blizzard that slammed the Northern Rockies and the Northern Plains. With apologies to Ayn Rand, when this Atlas shrugged, the world of many South Dakota ranchers fell and shattered.
Up to four feet of snow, plummeting temperatures and howling winds were too much for an as yet undetermined number of livestock. Seasonably moderate temperatures the week before caused little reason to expect the devastating conditions that became known as Atlas.
I realize the government has been shut down and there’s currently no Farm Bill, but my question has been “Where’s the leadership on the federal level?”
The president certainly could have taken a few moments to express his regrets. An appropriate time for that might have been in his remarks following the shutdown when he mentioned that an upcoming legislative priority would be passing a Farm Bill. “We should pass a farm bill, one that American farmers and ranchers can depend on, one that protects vulnerable children and adults in times of need, one that gives rural communities opportunities to grow and the long-term certainty that they deserve” he said, meaning of course that he wanted a Farm Bill that kept SNAP funding intact. What a great place to mention the devastation in the Black Hills from this historic agriculture disaster. What a great place to urge sufficient disaster funding and better livestock indemnification, retroactive to the victims of Atlas. But, nothing of substance was said – no stirring call from the nation’s leader for strength, courage and resolve in the time of trial or even comforting words to at least let storm victims know that he cared as much about them as he did about the victims of Hurricane Sandy or any other disaster.
Theodore Roosevelt was a former rancher when he occupied the White House. He once noted “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” The victims of the Atlas blizzard needed to know someone cared. They needed to feel that Washington was at least aware of what had happened to them. The USDA Secretary could have expressed condolences and a little compassion for those devastated by the Atlas blizzard, even if the federal offices were shut down.
It didn’t happen.
Much like the tree falling in the forest when no one’s there to hear it, four feet of snow fell in South Dakota in October and the rest of the country hardly noticed. It was close to a week before mentions began to appear in the national media.
Meanwhile, aggie bloggers were hard at work trying to do their part to call attention to the event. What they received for their efforts was rampant Monday morning quarterbacking by pundits that had no knowledge of livestock, chastising ranchers for not taking better care of their animals. Nobody really needed to hear that, especially since it couldn’t have been further from the truth. As South Dakota state veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven mused on my Food and Farm radio show, “maybe it was good that the power was out so that most of the ranchers didn’t get to read those things.”
Several years ago, I traveled to Kansas City to speak to an Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) conference about the psychological impact of agricultural disasters. I met Dr. Stephen Van Wie there. Steve is a Wisconsin Veterinarian who shares my concern for the emotional welfare of disaster victims, having witnessed the psychological impacts of the British Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001. You can hear a conversation with Steve on Food and Farm’s Spreaker channel at https://www.spreaker.com/user/foodandfarm/steve_van_wie_disaster.
The interview with Dustin Oedekoven is at https://www.spreaker.com/user/foodandfarm/dustin_oedekoven_south_dakota_blizzard
As peers line up behind the impacted ranchers with efforts like the #RancherReliefFund, it’s their way of saying, yes – someone does care.
Visit GiveBlackHills.org to donate at https://www.giveblackhills.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Organizations.Overview&Organization_ID=27677