Drought forces reduced grazing

Ranchers who graze their animals on public land in Southwest Montana will have to make some changes at least temporarily.

The Bureau of Land Management is requesting that ranchers limit grazing on public lands. Those with grazing permits are asked to graze no more than 70 percent of their allotted forage in eight Montana Counties with land administered by the Butte and Dillon BLM field offices.

Those counties are Madison, Jefferson, Beaverhead, Gallatin, Lewis and Clark, Silver Bow and Park. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, these counties face conditions that range from abnormally dry to severe drought.

There are several ways to decrease grazing on public lands. Ranchers can decrease the number of animals on the land or decrease the amount of time livestock spend grazing on the land.

The BLM says if the moisture in the soil was to improve substantially, additional grazing may be allowed. The U.S. Drought Monitor forecasts the drought to persist or intensify in much of the state.

For the mean time, the reduced grazing leaves ranchers with very few options to make up for that lost forage.

Third-generation Montana rancher Rick Sandru says he never thinks these blanket restrictions are the answer.

“Every range is different,” says Sandru. “It should be dealt with on a case by case-by-case basis. I don’t think every range in Madison County warrants a need for reduced grazing. It puts a lot of pressure on ranchers since there are really limited options for grass in this area.”

Sandru is the Ruby Valley Stock Association president and the Southwest Montana Stockmen Association director.

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