Senate subcommittee holds hearing on western drought

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Water and Power Subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday on the the status and management of drought in the western United States.

Tanya Trujillo, the Interior assistant secretary for water and science, said “We are seeing the impacts of climate change manifested in drought, wildfires, hurricanes, and localized flooding. Climate change is impacting Americans across our nation.”

“The only way to address these challenges and climate change is to utilize the best available science and to work cooperatively across the landscapes and communities that rely on our western rivers,” Trujillo said.

“This administration is working every day to collaborate with states, Tribes, farmers, and communities impacted by drought and climate change to build and enhance regional resilience. No amount of funding can offset the severe shortfalls in precipitation being experienced this year across the American West. We will experience unavoidable reductions in farm water supplies and hydropower generation, ecosystem degradation, and urban areas will need to conserve water. The department and state and local partners have planned for this by being proactive and fully using the tools we have.”

Julie Ellingson, the executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, testified “The impacts of drought are complex. There are the immediate effects: lack of water for irrigation, lack of spring rainfall during crucial growing seasons for grasses and crops and lower water tables.”

“There are the medium-term effects: increased risk of fire, changes to the watersheds downstream, and compounded effects on business operations and natural resource planning,” Ellingson said.

“Then, there are the long-term effects: change in local economic stability due to inability to adjust to drought conditions, loss of natural resource elements due to direct and indirect impacts of drought, and more.

“Currently, we’re grappling with the immediate and medium-term effects, but we know that longer-term impacts are on the horizon,” Ellingson said.

She also noted that many cattle producers in North Dakota utilize federal grazing permits for livestock forage as part of their rotations and that at the beginning of the season, many producers received “drought letters” from their federal rangeland conservationist or line officer telling them that, due to dry conditions, changes to their grazing operations may need to be made for the 2021 grazing season. Even ahead of those letters, she added, many permittees and lessees were meeting with the agencies, looking for solutions that would ensure that grazing management didn’t cause undue stress or degradation to private or public lands.

She also said it important that grazing permits be continued.

“A significant portion of the 6 million acres burned this year are on federal land – lands that could have been better managed through the thinning of fine fuels. Federal agencies must take a lesson from livestock producers to make these landscapes resilient for long-term challenges like drought and wildfire, but also resilient for changing uses.”

Ellingson also thanked Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., a member of the subcommittee and the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, for his work to provide additional allowances in the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program to support the transportation of feed.

“While it has been an incredibly challenging year, there have been many examples of federal agencies, Congress, state government and ranchers working together for the betterment of the land, water, and livestock,” Ellingson said.


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