Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
Several weeks of cooler weather and heavy periods of rain have improved conditions in north-central Montana, leading officials to lift fire restrictions and giving hope to good crops next year for area farmers and ranchers. Following a late period of high moisture in May and early June, north-central Montana saw a severe shortage of rain in July and August, leading to dry conditions and higher fire danger, with several grassland and mountain fires hitting Hill and Blaine counties. Rains in the early part of September have once again turned things around. Scott Thackeray, a local crop adjuster who also works for Jon Stoner on his farm north of Havre, said this morning that the recent rains have created good planting conditions for fall crops. “They are looking the best we’ve seen in a lot of years,” he said. Thackeray said the timing of the rains has been better than in recent years, giving farmers the opportunity to get started earlier. The intermittent showers have slowed things down a bit, with farmers having to let the land dry out before they can get to work, he said. “We’re a few days ahead of last year,” Thackeray said. The rains in May and June turned around what looked to be an extremely dry year, improving crops and leading to better recreation opportunities with lakes, creeks and rivers filled to overflowing compared to levels in the severe drought years from 2000 to 2002 or later. The dry conditions in those years led to early fire restrictions, some as early as in June. The restrictions came much later this year. Ron Knudson, disaster manager for Hill County, said the rains have improved conditions leading to the lifting of the fire restrictions, at the recommendation of area fire chiefs. “We’ve got a lot of moisture,” Knudson said. In mid-August, Hill, Blaine, Fergus and Petroleum counties imposed Stage 1 fire restrictions in the counties, which limits open fires to established camp sites only and restricts vehicle travel to existing roads. Tuesday the restrictions were rescinded in Hill County and on the Rocky Boy’s and Fort Belknap Indian reservations, although Stage 1 restrictions are still in place in Blaine County on all private, state and federal lands. Burn permits are again being issued in the areas where the restrictions have been lifted. Burn permits are still required for any debris burning and may have additional limits, with residents told to check with the local Sheriff’s office or fire department for information on the permits. One of the reasons the county decided to lift the restriction was to allow ag producers to apply for permits to burn to clear agricultural land, Knudson said. “We want to get some agricultural people out there who need to get out and burn off some areas,” he said. “We’ve been getting some requests for that.” He said that people still need to use care and caution when using a campfire, but that people in the area are generally careful. “You just need to be aware of what you’re doing,” Knudson said. “We’ve really had no problem from recreational campfires for many years and that just shows that people in the area know what they’re doing.” The rains have helped many areas of the state, with much of the Montana County Drought Status map that will be presented at the governor’s drought committee meeting today upgraded to no drought. Hill and Chouteau counties are still listed as slightly dry on the September map, with the surrounding counties including Blaine and Liberty upgraded to no drought. Most of the eastern edge of the state is still listed in moderately and severely dry conditions, and Madison and Broadwater counties on the southwestern edge of the state have been upgraded to join Beaverhead County in a moderately dry status. Most of the rest of the state has been upgraded to or remains in a no drought status, including the middle western part of the state which was listed as slightly dry in August. The precipitation has been up-anddown all year, leading to swings in conditions and restrictions. Following a very dry winter, Havre was listed on May 1 at 1.28 inches below normal precipitation for the year, and 2.33 inches below normal for the water year, the period from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 where the accumulation of moisture for the year is recorded. By June 11, heavy steady rains had brought much of the state back to above normal, with Havre listed as 1.32 inches above normal for the year and .27 inches above normal for the water year. But by the end of August, dry conditions had again dropped the accumulated amount, with Havre just under the normal accumulation for the year. Then rains in September brought the total back up. The Nat ional Weather Service this morning reported .92 inches total for the month, bringing Havre back to almost a half-inch above normal for the year and about a halfinch short for the water year. The long-range forecast listed on the U.S. Drought Monitor predicts average temperatures and precipitation for most of Montana through November. The National Weather Service forecast for the Havre area is for mostly sunny skies with highs in the 80s through Saturday and slightly cooler with a chance of showers Sunday and Monday. Its eight- to 14-day outlook calls for below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation.