Dry conditions plagued Montana this summer, with multiple wildfires torching over 1 million acres throughout the state. The largest fire, the Lodgepole Complex fire, impacted over 270,000 acres. Recent rain and snow, and the forecast for continued precipitation, help to suppress the fires and provide welcome relief for Montana residents.
Fires aren’t too uncommon in Montana, but this year’s fire season has been different. Spring brought plenty of moisture from an abundant snow-pack and provided adequate moisture for grass growth. The moisture quickly depleting leaving most of the state in drought condition.
“Ranchers saw this as great grass and feed. Firefighters saw it as fuel,” said Dennis Garcia, Farm Service Agency (FSA) county executive director for Glacier County, Montana. Garcia was activated to serve in the National Guard during the wildfire suppression efforts near Lolo, Montana.
FSA provides assistance to farmers and ranchers who have been impacted by natural disasters, including wildfires, by administering a suite of safety-net programs to help producers recover from eligible losses, such as the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program, and the Tree Assistance Program. The programs can assist farmers and ranchers who lost livestock, grazing land, fences or eligible trees, bushes and vines as a result of the qualifying natural disaster.
In addition, the FSA Emergency Conservation Program provides funding and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters. Low-interest emergency loans are available to help producers recover from production and physical losses. Compensation is also available to producers who purchased coverage through the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, which protects non-insurable crops (including native grass for grazing) against natural disasters that result in lower yields, crop losses or prevented planting.
As a result of the ongoing drought conditions, all Montana counties were approved for emergency haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres. Due to drought and fire conditions, 53 of the state’s 56 counties have been declared either primary or contiguous disaster areas.
“The short term impact is FSA can do a lot of good for producers. Producers can get some relief, fix fences and get feed purchased,” Garcia said.
Garcia said hay donations came into the state from other areas to help out ranchers in need. Additionally, FSA employees from other states, including Missouri and Oklahoma, have spent time helping Montana producers enroll in FSA disaster programs.
“It is proof that the agriculture community is one big small town where you have a lot of folks that have camaraderie,” he said.