According to information from Richland County Civil Attorney Tom Halverson, Richland Commissioners have petitioned Gov. Greg Gianforte requesting aid during the current severe drought.
The petition asks the governor to do a number of things to help those affected by the current dry conditions.
The petition asks Gianforte to submit a request to the U. S. Secretary of Agriculture and the President of the United States for an agriculture-related disaster declaration for Richland County; Montana based on drought; initiate action under The Montana Drought Response Plan and the Montana Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan; provide Richland County a copy of the April 15, 2021 report of the Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee describing the potential for drought in the coming year; initiate procedures to proclaim a drought emergency or to declare a drought disaster among other things and open opportunities for state assistance with such anticipated effects of drought as control of insect infestations and fire.
The petition to Gianforte also provided a timeline for the current drought and the effect each step in that timeline had on the county.
The petition began with warmer weather over the past winter which produced much less snowfall than normal.
The mild winter placed Richland County in a USDA secretarial drought designation as a contiguous county by Dec. 23, 2020.
Other dates mentioned in the report include:
By March 26, 2021 — Montana Public Radio published a report headlined “Montana’s March Drought Conditions Are Unprecedented. The report sstated, “Eastern Montana is painted mostly orange, signifying ‘severe drought.’ Roosevelt and Richland counties each share a dollop of bright red for ‘extreme drought.’” The report continued with Michael Downey of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation saying, “I don’t know that we’ve had a end of March and had the map look like this — maybe ever. So, yeah, it’s pretty worrisome.”
By April 8, 2021 — the U. S. Drought Monitor rated Richland County as suffering from category “D3 — Extreme Drought” with “Major crop/pasture losses” and “Widespread water shortages or restrictions.” While only 5.6% of Montana was in that category, 86.73% of Richland County was in that category.
The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center’s three month outlook for temperature probability for June-July-August of 2021 also forecasted higher than normal temperatures. The Service’s precipitation outlook for the same period also forecasts lower than normal precipitation.
April 5, 2021 — the Board of County Commissioners of Richland County adopted Emergency Resolution No. 2021-06, “Open Burning Not Permitted in Richland County,” declaring Richland County to be in State 1 fire and burning restrictions. The resolution recites existing dry conditions, low humidity, high winds, continued high temperatures, and many fires in our region.
Commissioners also point out that grass in pastures is severely stunted and hay ground is getting such a poor start that hay will be short.
The petition also points out that snowfall and early rains are extremely important. Although late rains are beneficial, they do not have the same effect as that of early moisture.
The drought can have a negative effect for Richland County’s agricultural producers. According to the petition, severe drought has an enormous impact in Richland County because of the importance of cattle, as demonstrated by the fact that we have the second largest livestock auction ring in Montana.
Cattle producers may be forced to make a decision between buying expensive hay from outside the region or reducing herds at distress sale prices.
Richland County also has a substantial number of dryland crop acres that are dependent entirely upon natural precipitation. These drought conditions typically reduce production to below break-even levels.
The Yellowstone River valley in Richland County enjoys flood irrigation by the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project but sugar beet producers say that it clearly is worse to irrigate-up a crop than for the crop to emerge by natural precipitation.
The county also has reports stating the Missouri River in Richland County and releases from the Fort Peck Reservoir are so low that sprinkler irrigation pumps cannot even be set for intake of irrigation water.
After listing the drought factors currently facing the county, the commissioners asked that Richland County be designated a primary drought disaster county.