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Montana rancher prepared but not worried about potential drought

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Posted at 9:27 AM, Jan 31, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-31 11:27:46-05

BILLINGS - The lack of snow this winter is leaving Montanans concerned about summer and wildfire season.

The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Drought Management Plan (DNRC) is for the long-term outlook.

In the short term, there has been a little bit less precipitation.

But one rancher says he's not worrying too much and waiting more to see what happens.

Brad Kraft's family has been ranching in west Billings for decades and has seen drought through the years.

"There's an old saying," Kraft said. "Farmers and ranchers say if you're going to have a drought, this is a time of year to have it."

Despite a lack of snow this winter, Kraft said he hasn't started to worry just yet.

But if drought continues, he may have to buy hay.

"It's an extra expense," Kraft said. "But if you have the hay sitting there, you might not be to the spring but maybe you'll feed them next winter again. If it's in the stack, you're going to use at some time or another."

What concerns many ranchers even more is the long-term drought outlook.

The DNRC recently released a new drought management plan for the first time since 1995.

It states Montana will become hotter and drier with temperatures expected to rise four to six degrees between now and 2050.

The plan has 36 recommendations for dealing with drought which include water supply, storage and delivery, and water policy.

"It lays out the process and the tools that we use for addressing drought when it does arrive," said Michael Downey, DNRC drought program coordinator. "And identifies our drought metrics that we use to evaluate drought."

Downey says Montana will need to adapt to this type of future.

As for the short term, despite about 80% of the state being either abnormally dry or in a drought, Downey is still hopeful it could potentially be good.

"I would say the outlook at this minute is not so good," Downey said. "But I have seen things switch. I guess I'm not really going to write it off quite yet."

"There's a concern," Kraft said. "But I really don't think about it too much until we get more into March, April."