As Montana's largest industry struggles with severe wildfire and drought, Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus are telling the U.S. Department of Agriculture to quickly provide Montana's farmers and ranchers with the resources they need to get back on their feet.
Montana's drought conditions are causing low hay production and feed shortages. The drought has also made wildfires worse and reduced water quality and availability. The most recent report shows that more than half the state is now experiencing abnormally dry or drought conditions.
Multiple Montana counties recently requested emergency disaster assistance from the Agriculture Department. Tester and Baucus today pushed the department to quickly approve their applications.
"We are writing to urge you to make available all federal resources at your disposal to assist agriculture producers in Montana who are struggling with drought disaster conditions," Tester and Baucus wrote Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "With many counties experiencing severe drought, we urge you to consider these requests as soon as you possibly can."
Tester and Baucus noted that many agriculture producers lost fencing and other infrastructure to wildfires. The Agriculture Department's Emergency Conservation Program provides emergency funding and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters.
"We strongly urge you to give full consideration to the use of these funds in areas of Montana impacted by fire," Tester and Baucus wrote.
Six counties have requested disaster assistance so far, with more requests expected in the coming days.
Tester and Baucus announced on Thursday that many ranchers in two fire-ravaged Montana counties will be able to use CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) land to move their herds out of the path of wildfire.
Last month, the Senate passed a Farm Bill that included a provision inserted by Baucus to make the Livestock Disaster Assistance Program Permanent. The Senate provision is retroactive for 2012 and would provide assistance to ranchers affected by the current fires. The bill is now awaiting action in the House.