MILES CITY, Mont. - With most of winter storm Atlas' deep, heavy snow gone, and power restored to nearly all who were without, the blizzard is all but a memory for most South Dakotans. But not for ranchers; with an estimated 80,000 head of cattle lying dead from the storm across the state, the nightmare is still very real. After hearing of the South Dakota ranching community's devastating losses, one Montana rancher decided he was going to try to make a difference.
On Oct. 8, 33-year-old Miles City, Mont. rancher Ty Linger set up the "Heifers for S. Dakota" Facebook page, hoping to start a campaign in which ranchers in the surrounding area unaffected by winter storm Atlas could pledge to donate cattle to South Dakota ranchers suffering a loss of 25 percent or more of their herd. As of today, exactly one week later, Linger is reporting more than 130 head of animals, valued at more than $200,000, have been pledged to his cause, he's set up a standalone website (www.helpforsouthdakota.com), his Facebook page has more than 4,300 "likes," his project is 90 percent of the way to official establishment as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, and he has 17 communication/organization/outreach branches set up - eight in Montana, two in Wyoming, one in south central South Dakota, one in western North Dakota, one in Nebraska, one in Minnesota, one in Iowa, one in Utah and one in Virginia.
To say there's widespread support for Linger's project would be an understatement.
It all began when Linger saw the images on Facebook: dozens of bodies of deceased cattle nearly stacked on top of one another in many of the photos - and there were many photos. Then he got word of the numbers.
"We were just thinking about what we could do that would make a difference, something that would matter," Linger said. "A lot of times you hear about hurricanes, tornadoes, and you want to help, you want to send money, but to a ranching community - if you were running say 200 head, and suddenly 150 are gone or dead, that's a tremendous loss. Most haven't even been able to sell their calves, so their one big paycheck this year just isn't going to come."
Linger knew monetary donations could go along way to helping out, but that donations of animals, from rancher to rancher, could go a lot further in picking ranching families up, getting them back in the game and keeping them there.
The ranching community has always been dedicated, tightly woven, and largely oblivious to state borderlines. Linger's project is showing just how true this is. Ranchers from as far away as Oklahoma, Virginia., and Arizona have pledged not only bred cattle, they've pledged to help haul, they've pledged to donate fuel, to donate the use of their trucks, to help organize the effort and distribution, and more.
And that's good, because the project that Linger's set out to tackle requires a massive amount of effort in so many ways - before several ranchers established the first branches of Help for South Dakota last week to help with organization of the effort, Linger was spending six hours a day on the phone and answering e-mails, while still trying to raise two young boys and manage his own ranching operation full-time. And with more and more people contacting Help for South Dakota to pledge animals, time, equipment or money, the workload hasn't changed much, but it's something Linger is all too happy to take on.
"I think this is the most important thing I can be doing right now," he said. "A high goal would be that everyone that has suffered a traumatic loss - a quarter of their heard or more, to this storm . I would love to be able to give an animal to every individual that suffered 25 percent or more loss."
Accomplishing this goal will require lots and lots of hard work, and dedication by many individuals, and there are many hurdles, logistical and otherwise, to jump over and much red tape cut through. Linger is looking for more help to make his goal a reality. He needs help with coordination, he needs more volunteers for hauling, more pledging to donate the use of trucks and trailers, more pledging to donate fuel, and of course, more pledging to donate cattle.
"It's really encouraging to me to see the amount of people who want to lend a hand," Linger said. "There's a lot of good folks out there, and it's humbling to be an instrument to be used to help organize some of that."
Linger said one of the best ways individuals can help him achieve his goal right now is by identifying ranchers who could use his help. He needs names, numbers and details, because without a list of those in need, a list of pledges is worthless.
Linger can be contacted through e-mail at [email protected]
More information on Help for South Dakota can be found at www.helpforsouthdakota.com, as well as on the project's regularly updated Facebook page: www.facebook.com/pledgeheifer.