MTPR: Montana's Delegation Asks Biden For Drought Assistance For Farmers, Ranchers

by Freddy Monares

Montana’s congressional delegation is asking the Biden administration to help farmers deal with extreme drought conditions as the state heats up.

Republicans Matt Rosendale and Steve Daines have one idea on how to handle it. Democrat Jon Tester has another.

Raylee Honeycutt with the Montana Stockgrowers Association says the drought is threatening the livelihood of ranching families and rural areas across Montana.

“It’s really a devastating aspect for ranching operations across the state,” she says.

Her comments come after Rep. Matt Rosendale and Sen. Steve Daines sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland Wednesday, urging her office to open emergency grazing within central Montana’s Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge.

Sen. Jon Tester sent a separate letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack asking his office to authorize emergency haying and grazing on conservation easements on rancher-owned lands.

The stockgrowers association says the entire delegation’s proposals are a huge step forward to help the agriculture industry.

Kit Fischer with the National Wildlife Federation says the congressional delegation should be working toward long-term solutions, noting this likely isn’t the last dry summer in Montana. He says Daines’ and Rosendale’s proposal is not appropriate, since the refuge is also experiencing the drought. Fischer says Tester’s proposal is a short-term solution, but it shows flexibility.

“It’s not optimal, but I think everybody has to be flexible in situations like this,” Fischer says.

Tester is asking the Agriculture Secretary to allow ranchers’ livestock to hay and graze on Conservation Reserve Program lands. As of April, there were more than 2,000 farms in Montana accounting for nearly 800,000 acres of land conserved using the program meant to improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and reduce loss of wildlife habitat.

More than 30 counties in the state have surpassed drought triggers that allow farmers to access those easements, but the USDA doesn’t allow that to happen during nesting season, which ends July 15.

Gov. Greg Gianforte Thursday issued an executive order declaring a statewide drought emergency.