Drought

As of June 22, 91 percent of Montana faces abnormally dry to extreme drought conditions.

Numbers don’t lie, but boy howdy, sometimes you wish they would.

According to this week’s statistics from the United State Department of Agriculture, 100 percent of Gallatin County is in severe drought, with 69.73 percent in extreme drought.

The “good news” is that as of Tuesday, the drought became so bad in Gallatin County that the federal government now lists it as a “Primary Natural Disaster Area” and it earned a D3 classification of being 100 percent in “extreme drought” for purposes of being eligible for federal assistance, according to the Bozeman office of the Farm Services Agency.

A FSA press release also lists Park, Sweetgrass and Madison counties in D3 status. Broadwater County is eligible for federal aid, as a “contiguous” county, as are Sliver Bow and Beaverhead.

On July 6, the USDA had declared 31 of Montana’s 56 counties in a drought disaster, making producers in those counties eligible for emergency loans and other federal help.

When Gov. Greg Gianforte earlier declared Montana in a state of emergency on July 1, he requested that Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack declare a federal emergency in the entire state.

That declaration directed the state’s ag, livestock and natural resources departments to work with the USDA to get federal funding to address the fallout from the drought.

Additionally, Drought.gov says 100 percent of the people in Gallatin County are affected by this drought, and this was the second driest June in the past 127 years, since record-keeping began in 1894.

The statistical reality of a D3 classification is that with an extreme” drought classification, crops aren’t considered harvestable, winter pasture is already being grazed, cattle have little water, and producers are already hauling water and culling herds.

Even with its new D3 classification, Gallatin County isn’t as bad off as counties along the Hi-

Line, where producers in Hill, Blaine and Phillips counties were not just dealing with a lack of rain, but with a Biblical plague of grasshoppers numbering more than 85 per square yard. (The economic threshold for hoppers is less than 15 per square yard).

So far, none of Gallatin or Broadwater counties are listed as a Category D4 of Extreme Drought, defined as “Widespread pasture loss; crops destroyed; property closed to hunting; widespread fires.”

As bad as it already is here, the worst is probably yet to come.

As reported in the Great Falls Tribune and Associated Press, over the next six to eight weeks conditions are likely to worsen across the entire state. July’s forecast predicts below normal precipitation and a 40 to 50 percent chance of above normal temperatures across most of the state.

The governor’s report noted that the potential for significant summer rain in the coming weeks “Is quickly waning, and that after mid-July most of Montana’s summer precip is limited to thunderstorms.

“The uncharacteristically dry March and April, coupled with warm and dry winter, resulted in abnormally dry to extreme drought conditions taking hold of much of Montana by the end of April.” his report stated. “Despite above average to near average precipitation and cooler than normal temperatures in May, deficits from the previous eight months were too large to overcome the persistent dryness.

“Gains in May were quickly offset by record-setting high temperatures and below normal precipitation in June.”

According to the governor’s report, drought conditions in 2021 are substantially worse than at this same time last year when “just” 52 percent of the state faced the same conditions.

As of July 6, the USDA had declared 31 of Montana’s 56 counties in a drought disaster.

The governor’s report dates the current drought back to mid-spring, when mountain snowpack melted early due to early high temperatures coupled with lower-than-expected precipitation.

That has translated into more local wildfire possibilities, with “fuel dryness in the Western U.S. mostly two to four weeks ahead of schedule,” reported the National Interagency Fire Center.

Contact your local Bozeman FSA office at 522-4000 for specifics of aid available for ag and livestock programs. Online, visit fsa.usda.gov/disaster. The filing deadline is March 14, 2022.