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Five Eastern Oregon Counties Seeking Drought Relief

A total of five eastern Oregon counties could get federal or state relief from persistent drought conditions, after a key recommendation made Thursday morning.  Oregon's Drought Council supported requests from Malheur and Wallowa Counties on Thursday. The governor has already signed off on requests from Union, Baker, and Harney counties. Rob Manning has this update on the tough conditions in eastern Oregon.

Parts of eastern Oregon are reeling from a combination of natural forces. Water resources officials estimate that streams in the Malheur Basin have delivered only 30%  of their regular flow. Reservoirs are half of normal — and some of them are completely dry.

Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce says the view from the ranches is even worse, especially when you factor in wildfires that have killed livestock and consumed thousands of acres of rangeland.

Dan Joyce: “The people I deal with, the longtime, fifth generation people, in their 70's and 80's, have said that this is the worst one they've seen in their lifetime. And so, obviously, you take their word for it, I can remember one in 1977 was bad — what I can't remember is where drought and fire hit at the same time.”

Joyce says emergency declarations could offer some needed relief to many ranchers. Though, he says, some are already trying to sell off cattle and equipment. 

Dan Joyce: “In fact I got a call from one yesterday, and he was 100% burned. He's got no feed, and no feed available, unless he goes to eastern Idaho, or somewhere where there is feed, and then you've got a trucking bill, plus a feed bill, and the price of hay is probably double what it was two years ago. People are going to have to make some pretty tough decisions here, pretty soon.”

Governor Ted Kulongoski's office indicated that Malheur and Wallowa counties are likely to get approved, since the Governor seldom overrules groups like the Drought Council.  State declarations can make emergency drilling for water possible.

In the short term, ranchers may be more interested in the cash they can get from feds. In fact, Wallowa County, to the north, is not even bothering with the state declaration, and is asking only that the governor pass along the federal request to the Agriculture Department.

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