Sidney Herald: Montana officials ask Haaland to allow grazing on CMR Wildlife Refuge

U.S. Senator Steve Daines and U.S. Representative Matt Rosendale have cosigned a letter to Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland requesting permission to allow livestock grazing on retired grazing allotments within the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge.

The letter begins by talking about the extreme drought conditions in Northeastern Montana.

“According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the majority of counties in northeast Montana are experiencing historic, extreme drought conditions threatening the livelihood of rural communities and devastating agricultural operations.”

The letter then goes on to ask the Secretary to allow grazing and why it is important.

“We respectfully urge you to immediately allow livestock grazing to be permitted on retired grazing allotments within the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge (CMR) to mitigate hardships felt by ranchers due to the drought. While 88% of Montana is currently experiencing abnormal dryness or drought, the northeast portion of the State has been hit the hardest. Drought has devastated our rangelands which are no longer able to produce the forage needed to sustain ranching operations and in some circumstances, displacing livestock altogether.”

Daines and Rosendale then discuss previous times this was allowed.

“In similar circumstances in 2017 following the Lodgepole Complex Wildfire, the Department of the Interior agreed to grant permission to graze livestock on retired allotments within the CMR. This provided an opportunity for displaced livestock to forage in areas previously permitted for grazing without compromising other uses or environmental considerations on the Refuge. This can and should be pursued once again to provide flexibility, alternative options, and relief for ranchers suffering at the hands of the drought.”

There has been no response from Haaland as of this issue going to press.

Senator Jon Tester also weighed in on the drought and grazing one day later. Tester issued a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack urging the release of Conservation Reserve Program lands.

This week, Montana is experiencing another round of extremely high temperatures that will likely break records across the state,” wrote Tester in a letter to Secretary Vilsack. “While we must ultimately address broader issues driving these conditions, producers are experiencing emergency conditions and need relief today. That’s why I urge you to immediately use your authority to allow for emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands.”

CRP is a land conservation program administered by the Farm Service Administration. In exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality. Contracts for land enrolled in CRP are 10-15 years in length. The long-term goal of the program is to re-establish valuable land cover to help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat.