drought

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Niobrara, Weston and Crook counties are on high alert for wildfires as Wyoming's first fire restrictions of the year are put in place.

Bureau of Land Management New Castle Field Office Manager Rick Miller said a main reason fire restrictions were issued Tuesday was because it's been very dry in the region.

"Northeast Wyoming has not had the rainfall that other parts of Wyoming have received, nor the spring snowfall, so we're quite a bit drier than other parts of Wyoming right now," Miller said.

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Several environmental groups filed a petition Wednesday with the Environmental Protection Agency in an effort to overhaul a program that exempts underground aquifers from protection under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

With drought and climate change creating water shortages in lower desert states, Wyoming is looking for more ways to store its share of Colorado River water. Last week, a bill sponsored by Representative Cynthia Lummis that would expand the storage capacity of Fontanelle Reservoir on the Green River in southwest Wyoming passed the House Natural Resources Committee unanimously.

Lummis says Wyoming needs more water to grow.

April Barnes

You might think of the Grand Canyon as one of the wildest places in the U.S. But the fact is, the Colorado River that runs through that canyon is not wild at all. Here’s a quote from Cadillac Desert, a documentary on water in the West.

"This river, the Colorado, can be turned on and turned off down to the last drop on orders from the Interior Secretary of the United States," a voiceover tells us. "This was the first river on earth to come under complete human control."

Brian Dierking

In response to a 15-year drought around much of the West, the U.S. Interior Department announced a new initiative called the Natural Resources Investment Center. The idea is to make it easier for the private sector to invest in water conservation projects like water transfers.

Water Resources Director Jimmy Hague with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership says such transfers allow water to be stored and moved to places where it’s needed most during dry spells.

Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge

The shadows of cottonwood trees grow long as the sun sets over Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Wyoming. A perfect time to spot wildlife on the Green River. Among the reeds, I see a white patch with a long neck. A trumpeter swan. Refuge project leader Tom Koerner passes me a pair of binoculars.

“That's probably a single bird and right in this wetland unit we just drove by there's three different pairs that nest in here,” Koerner says. 

Green River Recreation Department

It’s been a decade and a half of drought for Western states, many of which depend on the Colorado River for water. That includes Wyoming where the main branch of the Colorado—the Green River—originates in the Wind River Range.

The Upper Colorado River Basin states have decided to try a water conservation program long used in the Lower Basin states that pays water users to let their excess water flow back into the river.

National Park Service

Pine beetles and drought is leaving Wyoming and other states more susceptible to wildfires than at any point in recent memory, yet the federal fire policy doesn’t seem to be keeping up with the new climate. Wyoming lawmakers are trying to solve the problem.

Forecasters say drought and wildfire could ravage much of the Western U.S. this summer. To help farmers and ranchers be prepared, the Obama Administration rolled out several programs last week at a press conference for Western governors. Some initiatives could help Wyoming producers.

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Robert Bonnie said some short term solutions are necessary. One is to reimburse ranchers who lose livestock because of a lack of grass or water.

The price of beef hit an all-time record this quarter at $5.55 a pound—a full 25 cents higher than last year at this time.  Ann Wittmann, Director of the Wyoming Beef Council, says it’s a case of supply and demand.  A nation-wide drought has reduced herd sizes to the lowest they’ve been in 60 years and that is driving up the price for both consumers and producers.

Snowpack around the state is above average this year. Tony Bergantino, a climatologist with the Wyoming State Climate Office, says it’s the highest snowpack on record in five of Wyoming's basins. 

“They’re all above normal, and up in the upper northwest and southwest and in the central part of the state, they’re at the lowest,” se says. “And that’s still about 114-115 percent of normal.”

Bergantino says the snowy winter has brought most of the state out of drought conditions.  

Irina Zhorov

The U.S. cow herd is small right now because of the extended drought that’s plagued large swathes of the country. But though dry conditions have driven ranchers to sell off animals they would have otherwise kept, the decreasing size of the national herd is a trend decades in the making. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov reports on how livestock producers in Wyoming are turning out more meat with fewer animals.

Stereogab / Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

After last year’s crushing drought, wetter weather is helping crops recover, and prices are dropping.
 

US corn yields are up, according to IHS, Inc., a company that publishes stock market industry data. The company expects corn and soybean prices to drop by 10 percent in the third-quarter of this year.


Brett Moline of the Wyoming Farm Bureau says that means it’s cheaper for feed lots to finish more cattle, which is good news for cattle ranchers. 

PRA / Creative Commons

Twenty-thirteen marks the 14th year of the worst drought in the past century, so Colorado River Basin states are following 2007 agreement guidelines, and releasing less water from a major reservoir, Lake Powell.


Only 7.48 million acre feet will be released from Lake Powell next water year, down about 9% from normal levels. It’s the lowest release since the 1960s.   

After a harrowing drought and a wet spring, Wyoming’s hay inventory is down and prices are holding steady.

Still, the forage market is a fickle industry, says Wyoming Business Council Crop and Forage Program Manager Donn Randall. He says hay values are not standardized the way other commodities are.

“It’s so subjective to the buyer’s preference,” Randall says. “Horse people, they want it green and leafy, and you know, dairy people, they have to have relatively high feed values.”

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A study by the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit shows that elk are not especially stressed out by the presence of wolves.

Pregnancy rates among migratory elk herds near Yellowstone have declined, and one theory was that wolves were harassing the elk – causing them to run and hide, and depriving them of grazing opportunities.

Arthur Middleton, the lead author on the report, says elk did move around somewhat to get away from wolves, but only when the wolves were within one kilometer away. And he says wolves only rarely came that close.

An energy group says a recently released report overstated issues of water use by the oil and gas industry. The Western Organization of Resource Councils released the report last month and said regulators need to consider the quantity of water the energy industry uses, in addition to the quality.

Associated Press

Last year’s drought could impact the Wyoming water supply this summer.

The National Weather Service says that, although recent storms have helped replenish mountain snowpack, there might not be enough to get back to normal levels of runoff, which is state’s most common water source for crops and municipalities.

NWS Hydrologist Jim Fahey says that’s because the upper soil levels were parched by the drought and will likely absorb much of the runoff. Fahey says this could become especially problematic for some people during the summer months.

The National Weather Service says spring temperatures and precipitation should be near normal in Wyoming.

But Forecaster Paul Skrbac says that trend might not continue for the rest of the year.

“As we get into summer it looks like the odds increase that it’ll be a little warmer than normal,” Skrbac says, “and potentially a little dryer than normal.”

Skrbac says there’s still a chance that temperatures and precipitation could be average this summer, but it doesn’t look likely.

The National Weather Service says spring temperatures and precipitation should be near normal in Wyoming.

But Forecaster Paul Skrbac says that trend might not continue for the rest of the year.

“As we get into summer it looks like the odds increase that it’ll be a little warmer than normal,” Skrbac says, “and potentially a little dryer than normal.”

Skrbac says there’s still a chance that temperatures and precipitation could be average this summer, but it doesn’t look likely.

The National Weather Service says spring temperatures and precipitation should be near normal in Wyoming.

But Forecaster Paul Skrbac says that trend might not continue for the rest of the year.

“As we get into summer it looks like the odds increase that it’ll be a little warmer than normal,” Skrbac says, “and potentially a little dryer than normal.”

Skrbac says there’s still a chance that temperatures and precipitation could be average this summer, but it doesn’t look likely.

Photo courtesy the National Weather Service

Last year was the driest year Wyoming has seen in more than a century, and the dry spell has not let up. As a result, farmers and ranchers have had to make tough decisions and are deeply concerned about their livelihood for the coming year. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.

Unseasonable weather equally likely to stay or go

Jan 23, 2013

This year has been unusually dry so far, and the National Weather Service says it’s not clear if – or when – that trend will change.

Meteorologist Trevor LaVoie says it’s equally likely that the next few months will be wetter than usual, drier than usual, or just average.

“There’s no el niño or there’s no la niña phase that’s currently in the outlook,” LaVoie said. “So there’s no signal to say one way or the other that we’re going to be above or below average.”

2013 Snowpack Forecast Just Short of Average

Jan 3, 2013

Wyoming’s snowpack is roughly 20% lower than it was at this time last year. It’s currently at 83% of what is considered normal. But state water supply specialist Lee Hackleman says forecasts indicate that 2013 will be a “neutral year”, meaning we may end up with only slightly below average snowpack going into the summer.

The U.S. Drought Monitor says extreme drought conditions now cover much of southern and eastern Wyoming after a dry August.
 
 The program's map shows all of Sweetwater, Laramie, Goshen, Platte and Niobrara counties are in an extreme drought, the fourth-worst out of five categories.
 
 Conditions in most of Converse and Weston counties and in parts of six other counties are also classified as extreme drought.
 
Most of the rest of the state is in a severe drought, the third-worst category.
 

Willow Belden

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says this year’s hay crop will be the worst in decades, because of the drought. Hay is already in short supply, and prices have spiked. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports that the hay shortage is forcing ranchers to make tough choices and could have a lingering economic impact on the state’s ag industry.

The drought this season has taken its toll on farmers growing hay. The U-S Department of Agriculture is predicting that Wyoming’s hay crop this year will be the worst since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s. Platte County Extension Agent Dallas Mount joins us now to talk about that. He tells Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden the situation is ALREADY very bad.

The USDA is predicting that this year’s hay crop will be the worst in decades because of the drought.

Platte County Extension Agent Dallas Mount says most Wyoming hay farmers are producing only half as much hay as usual, and some are producing none at all. He says that’s driving up prices.

New U.S. Agriculture Department estimates indicate Wyoming is facing one its worst hay harvests in terms of acreage in nearly 80 years.
 
Hay is Wyoming's biggest cash crop, and it also is the one suffering the most from a lack of rains earlier in the season.
 
USDA crop yield estimates released late last week project Wyoming's overall hay harvest this year to yield about 925,000 acres of hay.
 
If realized, that would make 2012 the single worst year for Wyoming hay acreage since the Dust Bowl days of 1934.
 

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