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Drought Wins: USDA Declares 10 Western Counties as 'Primary Natural Disaster Areas'

The USDA has declared 10 counties eligible for drought-disaster aid, as well as dozens of contiguous ones.
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A whopping 10 counties in Arizona and New Mexico have been declared primary natural disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), with about two dozen more contiguous counties also eligible for assistance.

On February 4 the USDA designated Apache, Cochise, Gila, Graham and Pinal counties in Arizona as primary natural disaster areas because of drought-related damages and losses. On the same day the counties of Colfax, McKinley, Quay, San Juan and Union in New Mexico received the same designation, for the same reason.

“Our hearts go out to those … farmers and ranchers affected by recent natural disasters,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement about the counties in each state. “President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy by sustaining the successes of America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these difficult times. We’re also telling Arizona producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood.”

Farmers and ranchers in contiguous counties—Coconino, Greenlee, Maricopa, Navajo, Pima, Santa Cruz and Yavapai in Arizona, and 11 more in New Mexico—also qualify for natural disaster assistance, the USDA said.

In Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, seven more counties were designated for being contiguous, the USDA said. Assistance is also available to contiguous counties in Oklahoma and Texas. The USDA offers a number of programs to assist farmers and ranchers, including the Emergency Conservation Program, The Livestock Forage Disaster Program, the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program, and the Tree Assistance Program, the agency said. Additional information is also available online at the USDA’s Disaster Assistance Programs website.

The news comes just as a new study in the journal Science Advances warns we should brace ourselves for more of the same.

"Natural droughts like the 1930s Dust Bowl and the current drought in the Southwest have historically lasted maybe a decade or a little less," said Ben Cook, climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York City, and lead author of the study, in a statement. "What these results are saying is we're going to get a drought similar to those events, but it is probably going to last at least 30 to 35 years."