Polis among Western governors asking for FEMA drought disaster status
Gov. Jared Polis, along with nine other Western governors, sent a joint letter to President Joe Biden to declare a FEMA drought disaster in the West in order for states to access federal resources to help with subsequent wildfires and drought conditions.
“Thousands of farmers in our states are experiencing devastating impacts from our ongoing drought,” the letter reads. “Although we appreciate the funding available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Farm Service Agency (FSA) and other sources, many of our local FSA offices are overburdened with requests and unable to help on the scale we need.”
The letter also describes unusually high hay prices, ranchers destocking and potential sale of farmlands as reasons to enact an emergency status. Last week, Polis visited Craig on the Northwest Colorado Drought Tour to view drought conditions in Routt and Moffat counties. At the tour, Polis said that the state made a historic $50 million investment in the state’s water plan, but that it wasn’t enough.
“At this point there is little to no animal feed across much of the west, requiring farmers to import feed from out of state,” the letter continues. “Without substantial assistance, rural economies in our states that rely heavily on agriculture and natural resources will take years to recover from the effects of this devastating drought.”
Without federal assistance, the governors say, additional impacts will be felt on local economies. Local businesses were already at a deficit after the COVID-19 pandemic, but continuing water shortages could hurt the West even more. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor reported that 99% of the West is declared in a drought, while this time last year it was only 63%. This area covers 59.2 million Americans, the letter reads.
“We continue to do what is within our power, including working with our state legislatures and local governments to mitigate the immediate impacts of the drought, but the situation is now beyond our capacity as states or a region to manage without additional federal assistance,” the governors write.
They also ask the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to evaluate grazing grounds and livestock feed opportunities that could be made available for emergency situations. Farmers and ranchers in the West have had to open winter grazing grounds early, which could disrupt rotational grazing, hurt long-term pasture growth and exhaust resources.
The letter was signed by Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah, Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, Gov. Brad Little of Idaho, Gov. Greg Gianforte of Montana, Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington and Gov. Polis.
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Next week, Colorado Northwestern Community College and Moffat County are hosting a free day-long seminar for local ranchers and agriculture producers.