Montana enters drought emergency as conditions worsen

July 1, 2021 GMT

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Gov. Greg Gianforte declared a statewide drought emergency Thursday as more than 92% of Montana faces abnormally dry conditions.

“Every region of the state faces severe to extreme drought conditions, and the situation is getting worse. These alarming drought conditions are devastating our ag producers, challenging our tourism industry, and could bring a severe wildfire season,” Gianforte said in a statement.

The declaration directs the state departments of agriculture, livestock, natural resources and conservation to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to secure federal funding to address the fallout from the drought.

The order also suspends some regulations for motor vehicles providing drought-related support.

Almost 90% of the U.S. West faces drought conditions. Montana’s disaster declaration follows similar ones in other states, most recently a declaration in South Dakota earlier this week, as governors seek solutions to curb the impacts of unusually dry conditions.

A report released by the state Wednesday predicts drought conditions in Montana will worsen in the next two months.

Drought metrics are significantly worse than they were the same time last year, when just under half of the state confronted similar dryness.

Nearly 20% of the state is in extreme drought, up from 14% a week ago, according to figures released Thursday.

The July forecast projects below-normal precipitation throughout the state. Montana has already seen unusually high fire activity in June, including a fire near Yellowstone National Park that burned over 25 square miles (65 square kilometers).

“Given the latest on-the-ground conditions and the fire activity we have seen across the state over the past several weeks, we urge all Montanans and visitors to remain vigilant in doing their part to prevent wildfires,” Amanda Kaster, director of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said in a statement.