Governor Requests Federal Drought Disaster Declaration

Governor calls on U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify 11 counties as primary natural disaster areas

By Beacon Staff
North Flathead Yacht Club on Flathead Lake in Somers on June 30, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte on Tuesday asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to declare 11 Montana counties as primary natural disaster areas to relieve the economic strain of severe drought.

In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Gianforte requested federal aid for northwest Montana communities dealing with severe drought conditions preempted by low snowpack and hot, dry summer conditions.

“It is imperative that the U.S. Department of Agriculture aid Montana communities in accessing critical resources,” the governor wrote. “Relief is needed as swiftly as possible, particularly for our agricultural producers, who are seeing impacts to forage and stock water availability due to drought conditions and low water levels.”

The governor requested drought declarations for Montana counties facing moderate to severe drought as of July 20, including Flathead, Lincoln, Glacier, Toole, Sanders, Lake, Pondera, Mineral, Missoula, Ravalli, and Sheridan counties.

On Monday, the Flathead County Commissioners requested Gianforte issue a disaster declaration for both Flathead and Lake counties to alleviate the economic impacts of Flathead Lake’s historic low water levels.

“The Flathead River in northwest Montana is currently flowing at approximately one-third of its July average. Additionally, Flathead Lake sits more than two feet below its full pool level,” Gianforte said in his letter. “As a result of sustained dry, hot weather forecasted through the fall, officials project an above-normal fire season for northwest Montana.”

In July of 2021, Gianforte issued an executive order declaring a statewide drought emergency in Montana, which was never rescinded. The order directs the state to provide “maximum assistance” to the USDA drought-related activities to secure timely economic assistance from the federal government.” The governor made the same request of Secretary Vilsack in 2021.