ESCONDIDO, Calif. — Surrounded by cattle on a dairy farm in the San Pasqual Valley, San Diego County supervisors Jim Desmond and Joel Anderson announced the rollout of a program that aims to protect ranchers and livestock during a wildfire or other emergency.

“It’s a tool that’s going to preserve livestock, increase safety — even more important, help to save lives,” said Desmond.

It’s called an agriculture pass — or ag pass – which will allow ranchers access to restricted areas to care for animals and crops.

Frank Konyn, owner of Konyn Dairy, says – during a fire – it would be near impossible to evacuate all the animals off his dairy farm.

“Twenty hours to move all these animals and then the question is, where do you move them?” said Konyn.

County officials say the need for the ag pass has come about because during wildfires some ranchers and farmers ignore evacuation orders — knowing once they leave, they can’t get back to their property to take care of animals and crops.

Sometimes, they make a risky decision to bypass roadblocks to return to their property and that can lead to dangerous situations.

“In the past, we were forced to stay outside the roadblocks for days, in some cases, weeks — while our cattle had to fend for themselves,” said Katie Ostrander, owner of Diamond B. Ranch in Warner Springs.

County officials say the ag pass is not an automatic re-entry into an emergency area.

It would allow law enforcement and fire officials to identify pass holders at roadblocks and inside an evacuated area.

Then they can make the decision for entry, based on fire behavior and safety for the pass holders.

“It’s sad it’s taken this long. We’ve known for a long time that the county needed to do this,” said Anderson.

Farmers and ranchers need will need training and certification in order to get a pass.

“It is a big relief — just knowing that even if we have to leave for our own safety, we can get back to those animals quickly without having to wonder are they still ok out there,” said Ostrander.

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