Rapidly developing drought conditions – described as a flash drought – now exist in large portions of the upper Missouri River basin. North and South Dakota declared statewide emergencies. Drought conditions have already prompted many farmers and ranchers to sell off a large numbers of cattle due to the lack of grass and hay. The U.S. Department of Agriculture granted a request to allow emergency grazing of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres in the Dakotas.
Forecasters from the National Weather Service say current drought conditions are worse than in recent years, particularly in the Dakotas, because the dry period started much earlier in the year and has progressed much faster. Wildlife biologists fear the drought will limit waterfowl and pheasant nesting success. The National Drought Mitigation Center website provides the latest information on drought conditions.
Despite drought conditions in the upper basin, the Army Corps of Engineers is forecasting above-average total runoff into the Missouri River basin due to melting of heavy mountain snow packs. The three largest reservoirs on the river – Fort Peck in Montana, Sakakawea in North Dakota, and Oahe in North and South Dakota – are all expected to rise. Steady to rising water levels benefit forage and game fish production as well as outdoor recreation. The League will continue to advocate for abundant fish and wildlife habitat and the many recreational uses offered by the Missouri River.