What is an Ag/Livestock Pass?
The Agriculture and Livestock Pass Identification Card is a form of verification that allows farmers and ranchers to access their properties and tend to their crops and livestock during disaster evacuations when conditions have been deemed safe for return. It may also be known by other names, such as a “Restricted Area Access Pass”. The need for these programs arose as a response to the operational challenges reported by farmers and ranchers who had difficulty accessing their properties during 2018 wildfires in California. With the increasing prominence of chronic, destructive wildfires in our communities, the opportunity to support livestock and maintain operations during disasters offers critical support for agricultural operators.
The graphic below outlines the process that leads Ag/Livestock Pass holders back on their property after a mandatory evacuation.
Considering how different agricultural operations can look throughout the state, Ag/Livestock Pass Programs are developed to serve a specific county or group of counties rather than the state as a whole. Most programs have similar structure, but they often contain provisions that cater to the characteristics of the region in question. For example, because Humboldt County is home to many commercial cannabis farms, they developed a “CannAg Pass” in addition to their regular Ag/Livestock Pass. This helps address unique needs and considerations for cannabis cultivators in the event of disaster events.
A number of farmers we work with were confused about requirements and program eligibility, so we developed a Quick Guide to Ag/Livestock Pass Programs to highlight the key components that make up these programs and how to access them.
Why are Ag/Livestock Pass Programs Important?
An Ag/Livestock Pass program can not only save time and assets, but also lives. The flow of an evacuation process is normally dictated by the Incident Command Systems (ICS), such as that outlined in the diagram below. A term used often among disaster response professionals and CAL FIRE, incident command systems “[Provide] guidance for how to organize assets to respond to an incident (system description) and processes to manage the response through its successive stages (concept of operations)” (USDHHS).
Incident Command System Diagram courtesy of CAL FIRE, “Disclaimer: This interpretation of ICS is to assist the fire scanner listener in understanding how fire radio traffic works over large fires. While very accurate, it should not be used as study material for official ICS or NIMS courses. Diagrams are strictly the original interpretation of the author in regards to ICS and communications.”
In the absence of Ag/Livestock pass programs, agricultural operators are left at the mercy of the ICS, which relies on steady communication between chains of command that may be preoccupied directing emergency personnel and equipment to address the disaster as it progresses. In some cases, farmers and ranchers have chosen to remain at their properties during an evacuation order to avoid the barriers to wait for re-entry. This can be a dangerous decision to make, and is considered a misdemeanor under Penal Code 148(a) in the sate of California. This is another reason why these programs are so important; to protect people but still help them maintain viable operations during disasters.
What is Required to Become an Ag/Livestock Pass Holder?
In order to obtain an Ag/Livestock pass, farmers and ranchers must submit an application, usually through their local Office of the Agricultural Commissioner. If the applicant meets the standard requirements (and completes any required training), then they are issued an Ag/Livestock Pass Identification Card that they can present to law enforcement or fire officials at roadblocks during disaster evacuation periods.
The application typically asks for proof of documentation of the commercial agricultural operations, such as tax documentation or an agricultural land leasing agreement. In addition, some programs require basic training on fire behavior, disaster emergency communications, and incident command structure. These trainings are administered by CAL FIRE and/or University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) offices and normally last four hours in length with a one hour annual refresher course to keep the certification. These courses provide farmers and ranchers with the understanding and skills they need to navigate and respond to the emergency systems when the time comes.
Qualifying for an Ag/Livestock Pass prepares farmers and ranchers to collaborate with disaster response officials on the day of an event. However, it’s important to note that pass holders are not automatically guaranteed re-entry; if fire officials determine that conditions are still too dangerous or unpredictable for return, pass holders can be denied access. Even so, the pass makes it significantly easier for farmers and ranchers to return to property during an evacuation.
When it comes to what pass holders are allowed to do once they have access to their property, that can vary by program. Often, this is for the protection of farmworkers which have been historically placed in dangerous or unhealthy smoke conditions to harvest crops. Senate Bill 1044 addresses this concern, click the “learn more” button for details. Some programs also outline additional constraints. See the list below produced by the San Diego County Fire Protection District Pass Program:
- “For livestock operations, the Ag Pass will be limited to the purposes of sheltering, moving, transporting, evacuating, feeding, watering, or administering veterinary care to livestock.”
- “For agricultural operations, the Ag Pass will allow work on irrigation systems, farm equipment, and other essential infrastructure.”
Be sure to read up on the unique characteristics and provisions of your local Ag/Livestock Pass program.
Looking to the Future
Ag/Livestock Pass Programs represent a stepping stone in our efforts to build more wildfire-resilient communities. These programs support the unique agricultural considerations of their applicable regions and adapt to prioritize farmer and rancher needs. With increasingly unpredictable losses from wildfires, we need to fortify and prepare our farmers and ranchers who would like the opportunity to return to their property in emergency situations.
Many counties/regions are still deciding what their Ag/Livestock Pass Programs will look like, whereas others are building on multi-year efforts. If you’d like to learn more about your local Ag/Livestock Pass Program, a good place to start is to check online and see if there are any active programs in your area or programs in development. If not, reach out to your local UCCE Livestock Management Specialist or Agricultural Commissioner.