Citing drought, Wyoming governor seeks disaster declaration

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Wyoming's governor, citing drought conditions, has asked for a federal disaster declaration after dwindling runoff from meager winter snowpack combined with an especially dry spring and early summer hit ranchers hard, his office said on Friday.

The request, if successful, could help farmers qualify for federal assistance based on poor grass and hay production that has driven many to sell off cattle in the face of persistent dry weather.

"Wyoming farmers and ranchers are struggling to work through serious impacts caused by drought," Governor Matt Mead said in a statement announcing the request for all but a single county.

Though Wyoming's nickname is the Cowboy State and it was largely settled by ranchers, agriculture now accounts for a small fraction - less than 5 percent - of Wyoming's energy-driven economy, with coal and natural gas production dwarfing all other industries.

But in a state where nearly half the land is publicly owned, farmers and ranchers play a key role in preserving Wyoming's open spaces and supporting its abundant wildlife, indirectly boosting the state's second-ranking industry of tourism.

Statewide, ranchers have lost about half of their pasture grass and hay production on non-irrigated lands this year, and producers in affected areas were "really struggling," said Doug Miyamoto, deputy director for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture.

"It's scary, because you don't have the production to even feed your animals," said Krista Macy, whose family has been farming and raising cattle for 100 years north of Pine Bluffs, in southwestern Wyoming, near the Nebraska state line.

Miyamoto said the southern part of Wyoming was suffering the most from lack of spring rain.

"There has been a lot of liquidation of cattle this year in Wyoming based on how far behind we were on precipitation," Miyamoto said.

Data compiled by the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, shows that more than two thirds of the topsoil in Wyoming was now rated as either too dry for normal plant growth or too dry for any growth or seed germination.

Though federal disaster assistance may help drought-stricken Wyoming ranchers in the short run, bouncing back after such a dry year can be tough over the long term, both financially and emotionally, Macy said.

Moving cows between pastures as grass dies and hauling water as springs dry up is about all some ranchers can do, she said.

"That's the hardest part, to watch your animals suffer," she said. "They're your world."

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Cody Coyote    
Cody WY  |  June, 24, 2012 at 01:07 PM

Ranchers generally hate the federal government till they need something from it, them the hand comes out. Except the hand is out all the time these days. It's well past the time to end welfare socialist ranching in the West , if you truely believe in less government and more free and fair market . Sometimes that market deals you a bad hand, and why should the government cover that bet ? Why should I be asked to subsidize your losses due to bad weather?---do you ranchers cover my duff ? No of course not. Wyoming's shortfall in cattle will not be missed by the market , and nobody owes ranchers a living. Get over it, once and for all. P.S. Pay a fair market grazing fee on my public land while yer at it

Fred Kratz    
Portland, OR  |  June, 25, 2012 at 01:24 AM

Cody Coyote, How about ending welfare socialist farming, or cutting all subsidies to the oil and gas industry? While we're at it, lets cut funding to education, and social programs. No more funding for the massive industrial military complex, or shoring up any banks during a crisis. Let the free market system do its business without regard to families, and especially ranching families, trying to make a very honest living off the land they love. Get real!

Disaster Distress Helpline    
New York, NY  |  June, 24, 2012 at 04:49 PM

All natural disasters, including persisitent droughts, have the potential to result in emotional distress among those living or working in impacted areas (including children and teens). Disaster-related distress can include overwhelming anxiety, problems sleeping, and other depression-like symptoms. FYI the Disaster Distress Helpline (a program of SAMHSA) offers 24/7 crisis counseling related to any natural or human-caused disaster across the U.S./territories. Those needing support can call toll-free 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 (Spanish-speakers can text Hablanos to 66746); calls and texts are answered by trained, caring counselors from call centers across the country. If you are struggling in the face of this drought or any disaster, you are not alone! Help is just a call or text away.

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