Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
After a call from a Montana senator to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the secretary approved emergency livestock grazing in five Montana counties including Blaine and Phillips counties, while grazing previously approved in areas including Hill County have been tied up in court. The office of
U. S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., announced that the senator Tuesday persuaded the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer that emergency grazing was needed in Montana. “Sometimes it just takes a phone call to the top to ask, What’s going on here?’” Tester, said in a press release. “This is a commonsense result that comes from putting partisanship aside and working together. “We have an emergency drought situation on ranches and farms across Montana, and now folks need all their land to keep their livestock and their livelihoods on track,” Tester added. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., has also been active in looking for emergency use of CRP land, the release said. “Agriculture is the backbone of our economy, and Jon and I are committed to making sure we’re doing what’s right for our farmers and ranchers,” Baucus said. “Every day that passes this drought becomes more and more of a threat to our producers. This is the right thing to do, and I’m glad Secretary Schafer has made this decision.” Schafer approved the emergency grazing on land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program for Richland, Dawson and Glacier counTies as well as Blaine and Phillips counties after the telephone call Tuesday, Tester said in the release. Hill County was approved for grazing, as well as haying, some CRP land earlier this year, but Hill County Farm Service Agency Executive Director Mike Zook said that is now in the court system. The National Wildlife Federation and some of its state affiliates filed suit over the decision, saying the government had not completed an environmental assessment before ruling in May producers could apply to graze and hay CRP land in parts of 10 states. U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour issued a temporary restraining order preventing haying and grazing and is holding a hearing on the issue today. Zook said about 10 or 20 Hill County farmers and ranchers had applied to hay or graze on CRP land, and will be impacted by the decision. The decision this week to allow grazing is under different restraints. Livestock producers in the five counties approved can immediately apply for emergency grazing and have their cattle on the land the same day, said Ede Breitmeier, program technician in the Blaine County Farm Services Agency Office. “They can go in at any time and have to be out by Sept. 30,” Breitmeier said this morning. There are some fees and restrictions, she added. The producer must pay 25 percent of their contract dollars for the land used, and the producer can only graze 75 percent of the livestock that be on the land. Breitmeier said the conditions in Blaine County, with rainfall in May and early June and some showers since, have helped the grazing and haying situation. The application for emergency grazing was put in months ago, based on earlier rainfall amounts. Tester said he had heard from many Montanans that the conditions were not good, however. He toured eastern Montana the week before the Fourth of July, and said Wednesday that many producers told him of the need for emergency grazing. Tester said he vowed to follow up on the issue when he returned to the Senate. The drought conditions while better than they were during the severe drought earlier this decade have been on something of a roller coaster ride. By the beginning of May, with a severe shortage in precipitation, most of north-central Montana was listed on the state drought status map as moderately to severely dry, with Hill, Blaine and Chouteau counties among those listed in severely dry drought conditions. Following steady rainfall in May and early June, the status was updated, with Blaine listed as moderately dry and Liberty, Hill, Chouteau and Phillips listed as slightly dry. Since then, some heavy showers have fallen although above average temperatures and little precipitation has been the norm. The state drought status map for July lists Liberty, Chouteau and Phillips counties as having no drought while Hill and Blaine are listed as slightly dry. Zook said things are better in Hill County than they were in early May, but much still depends on how much more precipitation the area receives. “Winter wheat looks very good, in traveling the county ,” he said. “Spring grains are in need of some additional precipitation.” Information from The Associated Press was used in this article.