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Governor asks for federal natural disaster declaration in 11 counties

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(The Center Square) – Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte wants the federal government to declare natural disaster areas in 11 counties due to drought.

“With unusually low snowpack and hot, dry conditions in northwest Montana, it is imperative that the U.S. Department of Agriculture aid Montana communities in accessing critical resources, such as the Livestock Forage Program, Emergency Conservation Program, and Emergency Livestock Assistance Program, to respond to continue severe drought conditions on the ground,” the governor wrote in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Earlier this month, Gianforte issued a statewide drought disaster declaration. That remains in effect, but the USDA has not yet identified any Montana counties as areas of drought disaster.

The 11 counties in question are Flathead, Lincoln, Glacier, Toole, Sanders, Lake, Pondera, Mineral, Missoula, Ravalli and Sheridan counties.

In a news release, Gianforte said the Flathead River is currently flowing at approximately one-third of its average for this time of year. Meanwhile, Flathead Lake is more than two feet below its full level.

“As a result of sustained dry, hot weather forecasted through the fall, officials project an above-normal fire season for northwest Montana,” the governor said. “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.”

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