State and county declarations of drought disaster are already seeing a response at the federal level as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued its own emergency declaration, which allows for the transport of hay, feed, livestock, supplies and equipment into and out of North Dakota and South Dakota.
“We cannot afford delays on the delivery of relief during such a severe disaster," said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee. "By easing the limits on transporting hay, feed and livestock, we are helping ensure our ag producers can access the goods and services they need to respond to this drought.”
As areas of extreme drought expanded by about 5 percent in North Dakota this week, Gov. Doug Burgum declared a drought disaster late Wednesday for nearly all of the state.
Morton County followed with a drought disaster declaration Thursday morning, and Stutsman County Commission's chairman signed a similar declaration on Tuesday.
“These extreme drought conditions represent a serious economic hardship for our farmers, ranchers and the entire state, while also putting firefighters under considerable stress,” said Burgum, whose office indicated that more than 300 wildfires have been reported to the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services since April 1.
The state declaration directs North Dakota officials to coordinate with federal agencies to make drought response programs available and authorizes the North Dakota National Guard to provide personnel, resources and equipment necessary to support drought response efforts.
“Our hope is that this disaster declaration is another step that may lead to some additional state or federal resources,” said Morton County Commission Chairman Cody Schulz of the county's own declaration. “Farmers and ranchers are really hurting out there, and we want to make sure we explore every avenue available to provide some relief.”
According to data released today by the United States Drought Monitor, regions in exceptional drought, the worst rating possible, expanded by about 1 percent from 6.35 percent last week to 7.62 percent this week.
Maxine Herr, public information officer for Morton County, indicated that county officials are fearful that continued drought conditions could have damaging effects on the overall economy beyond the direct impacts being felt by farmers and ranchers.
Most of Morton and Burleigh counties are in extreme drought with the western edge of Morton County in exceptional drought, according to the Drought Monitor's data. Overall, 93 percent of North Dakota is at least abnormally dry with nearly 46 percent of the state in extreme drought.
“We have staff from my office, as well as the county extension and the county highway department, doing everything we can to respond to the ag-related impacts, as well as the increased demands on our area firefighters,” said Tom Doering, the emergency manager for Morton County.
Despite a few showers and thunderstorms that moved across the state in the past week, rainfall amounts remained below normal. Crops are suffering as soil continues to dry out. Drier-than-normal conditions are expected to persist at least through the first week of August.
Last week, the governor waived fees for commercial vehicles hauling hay, water and livestock supplies in drought-affected counties. Previous executive orders have waived hours of service and weight restrictions and allowed the State Water Commission to reactivate its Drought Disaster Livestock Water Supply Program.
Scattered storms are anticipated through Saturday with temperatures ranging from the mid-80s to lower 90s, according to the National Weather Service in Bismarck.
Rainfall to date this year in the Bismarck area measured 6.47 inches with .60 inch falling in the past week, according to data provided by the Weather Underground. Average rainfall amounts by this time of year is usually 11.11 inches.