Extension stress preparedness for area rangelands


WYOMING – Withstanding La Nina has been difficult for Wyoming agricultural producers. They’ve been forced to endure acts of nature happening off the west coast, pushing moisture-laden storms on a northern track while many parts of the Midwest remain in drought conditions.

University of Wyoming Extension experts painted a grim outlook for the weather at the beginning the state’s snowiest months, historically.

“The weather pattern right now is pretty scary,” Barton Stam, an extension rangeland educator based in Hot Springs County said. Stam has offered drought-year grazing strategies during his presentations at farm and ranch conferences this winter.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map for Wyoming in late February showed extreme drought ballooning in central Wyoming. The map showed the majority of Sublette County was either in moderate or severe drought conditions. The northern-most part of the county was listed as abnormally dry as of Feb. 16 data.

Stam said producers don’t need those maps to know their rangelands are dry. While producers hope the weather pattern shifts, Stam has committed to providing them tools to manage through the drought.

Blaine Horn, an extension educator in Johnson County, said there aren’t any irrigation water concerns as the water basins reach snowpack averages.

“As far as the plains goes, we have pretty good snow cover, but snow this time of year contributes little, if at all, to soil moisture for range plant growth this spring and summer,” he said. “So, it’s too early to tell what the upcoming growing season will be like. We will definitely need good late-March to early-June moisture to have a good grazing season as the soil is pretty well dried out.”

National Weather Service hydrometerological technician Geri Swanson said computer models for February through April predict above-normal temperatures during WESTI Ag Days in Worland last week. The models for the next three months call for equal chances of precipitation.

“And that’s just telling us the computer models can’t decide if it’s going to be above or below normal, so they’re giving us equal chances,” Swanson said. “We could see above, we could see below. There’s just too many variables for the three-month window for them to go either direction for precipitation chances.”

The National Weather Service’s latest Climate Prediction Center report, published late last week, predicted most of Wyoming would receive below average precipitation probability for April through July this year. Stam said the next three months will indicate snowpack and rain precipitation, as well as the amount of grass for grazing and other forage production.

Stam said some federal agencies have sent letters stating they’ve observed conditions and asked those with permits to meet with Forest Service and rangeland specialists to determine a plan to survive if drought continues.

If the drought continues, Stam said, “We’re going to be working with a reduced supply of forages, so how can we use forages most efficiently? In a lot of cases, that’s going to be distributing livestock in a more effective manner.”

Wyoming producers have survived droughts in previous years through preparation and contingency plans. Stam stressed preparedness and maintaining a plan in order to endure a possible long-lasting upcoming drought.