You may know first hand how people evacuate during natural disasters; have you ever wondered what happens to livestock? A recent state law changed some rules, letting ranchers feed and water their animals, even during an evacuation. That’s opened up a series of questions concerning farmworkers’ health and safety.
When wildfires devastated California in 2020, killing animals and scorching fields, lawmakers moved to enact an agricultural pass program. It was meant to ease access in emergencies.
Kirk Wilbur is director of governmental affairs at the California Cattlemen’s Association.
“As a rancher tried to access their ranch to safeguard livestock…evacuating those livestock in the worst case scenarios, they were finding that they were often having trouble accessing their ranch because they were discussing access with folks who were unfamiliar with the individual rancher, unfamiliar with the community.”
Lawmakers also included protections that limit who may enter evacuation zones. Under the law, only managerial employees, as well as certified livestock producers, are allowed back on their farms, thus being exposed to hazardous conditions.
Max Bell Alper with North Bay Jobs for Justice says these kinds of protections were meant to encompass workers from all agricultural industries.
“Originally, as AB 1103 was written, it included all agricultural workers, not just livestock workers…0:35 A lot of it was changed in the process of making the law because of lobbying by big agriculture and large wine industry, so that it does not include most workers who work in vineyards and agriculture.”
Now, he said, the responsibility is on local governments to regulate who is allowed on farms during natural disasters.
"Because AB 1103 does not include most agricultural workers, it’s even more urgent that the county of Sonoma pass policies to protect workers here.”
On July 19th, the county board of supervisors is set to talk about what the state law looks like in Sonoma County…and to hear what the public thinks.