Drought

It's no secret that water is a problem in the West. Historically, the humble beaver helped maintain wetlands and ponds across the arid landscape but their populations were decimated during the fur trade and their numbers dropped dramatically from 400 million to just 100,000 by the turn of the twentieth century. But Canada's national animal is making a comeback and scientists think they have an important role to play as our region fights drought.

Colorado is called “the mother of  rivers” for a reason: it’s one of the most popular states for river rafting in the country.  But like the rest of our region, unprecedented growth, a changing climate, drought, and wildfires are taking their toll on this multi-million-dollar industry.

Over the last 30 years, the West has seen an uptick in the size and frequency of forest fires. Scientists have typically attributed the change to low snowpack and high summer temperatures. But researchers writing in the journal PNAS say the trend could have more to do with rain.

Researchers pulled up maps of forest wildfires from 1979 to 2016 and compared those maps against data on snow, rain, temperature and humidity.

Earth Network.news

The National Weather Service in Billings has selected drought and the resulting wildfire activity as the top weather event for 2017. It probably comes as no surprise to residents east of the Continental Divide.

NWS Meteorologist Tom Frieders said parts of Montana are still experiencing drought. He said at this time last year most of the state was in pretty good shape.

National Weather Service

This was the second driest summer on record in Montana, but meteorologists say rain is finally on the way. 

Since July, the state has seen towns threatened by wildfires and choked with smoke, crops getting killed by drought and grass fires destroying rangeland. 

But a cold and rainy system entering Montana Thursday could put at least a temporary end to the suffering.

Neha Viswanathan / Flickr Creative Commons

Montana farmers planted fewer acres of wheat this year than they have in the past, thanks to significantly lower prices last year for the crop.

This year’s crop across the country is just under 46 million acres, the smallest since 1919.

Bison
Yellowstone National Park

More than half of Montana is currently in the grips of a severe drought, according to the latest numbers released by the U.S. Drought Monitor Thursday. And, as pastures shrivel up in the heat, ranchers are trucking in bales of hay and selling their cattle early.

But there’s another big, horned animal out there on the range. Bison.

Nate Hegyi / YPR

As the most severe drought in the nation continues to pummel ranchers and farmers in northeastern Montana, the National Weather Service says it isn’t ending anytime soon. 

Field Days: Drought

Jul 31, 2017
courtesy Sterling Small

On the final episode of the first season of Field Days, Northern Cheyenne rancher Sterling Small makes a tough call on his late-planted barley crop.

  

Dustin White, the Chippewa-Cree tribal water director, stands next to a water storage supply tank on the Rocky Boy's reservation.
Nate Hegyi / YPR

3,000 people might run out of water this summer on the Rocky Boy’s Reservation, but a bipartisan bill moving through U.S. Congress could bring some much-needed relief.

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