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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Over 60 Percent Of Montana Facing Drought Conditions

Montana Drought Monitor map for April 13, 2021 shows around 60% of Montana facing drought conditions.
Deborah Bathke
National Drought Mitigation Center
Montana Drought Monitor Report for April 13, 2021.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office Monday released this year’s state Water and Supply and Drought Outlook report. Over 60 percent of Montana is facing drought conditions.

Montana’s unusually mild fall and winter has led to "abnormally dry" conditions across over 40 percent of the state. Almost 20 percent of Montana faces “severe” to “extreme” drought. It’s most severe in 12 Eastern Montana counties. 

“Any of this prairie ground and continuous crop farmland – there’s zero sub-moisture in there, it’s dry for basically four feet,” says Richland County Commissioner Loren Young, who farms west of Fairview. “It would never sustain a crop. If this continues we’re in bad shape here.” 

On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being a worst-case scenario, Commissioner Young was asked to rate Eastern Montana’s drought conditions.

“We’re probably about a 9.9,” Young said.

In its request earlier this month to Gov. Greg Gianforte for a Drought Disaster Declaration, the Richland County Commission describes severely-stunted pasture grass. They say local cattle producers may soon have to decide between buying expensive hay from outside the

region or reducing herds at distressed sale prices.

The Governor’s Montana Water and Supply Drought Outlook Report notes that if spring precipitation is below average, Eastern Montana ranchers may face challenges this summer ensuring adequate water supply for their livestock.

The report also says elevated fire risk is possible if current conditions persist.

Gianforte’s office issued a press release Monday saying the governor is tasking state agency directors to look at options to support agricultural producers in extreme drought conditions.

State drought experts say there is time for drought conditions to improve before the onset of summer. The next eight to 10 weeks will be critical. Weather forecasters say Montana has equal chances for above, below or normal precipitation heading into late spring and early summer.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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