This year's dry weather has forced a terrible choice on mid-West ranchers: sell, or haul.

Lifelong Wyoming rancher Neil Forgey is hoping the grass is greener in Winner, South Dakota. This year's drought has forced a terrible choice on mid-West ranchers: sell, or haul. Neil's usually verdant land in Douglas, Wyoming—home for decades—is "drier than it's ever been," he said. Every county in that state is a declared disaster area, eligible for federal money. Neil's property was also threatened by the Arapaho Fire, which destroyed nearly 99 thousand acres, the worst in Wyoming this year. "It was selling them, or South Dakota," he said.



Neil found greener pastures seven hours and 330 miles east, in Winner, South Dakota, on an expansive prairie owned by family friend. There, at risky expense, 120 head of cattle will graze until September in the hope next year will bring rain.

Not so lucky are ranchers just an hour south, in Bassett, Nebraska, where the local auction house can barely keep up with a brimming cattle yard. As ranchers flee fire and drought, and scientists warn of a more severe droughts driven by climate change, Neil's story is repeating all over the West.

Photo credit: Tom Grundy /Shutterstock

The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration between The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Slate, and others, dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. Learn more at theclimatedesk.org.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A person tapes an eviction notice to the door of an apartment.
    Equity

    Why Landlords File for Eviction (Hint: It’s Usually Not to Evict)

    Most of the time, a new study finds, landlords file for eviction because it tilts the power dynamic in their favor—not because they want to eject their tenants.

  2. photo of Arizona governor Doug Ducey
    Perspective

    Why FOMO Is the Enemy of Good Urban Mobility Policy

    Fear of Missing Out does not make good transportation policy. Sometimes a new bus shelter is a better investment than flashy new technology.

  3. At an NBA game, a player attempts to block a player from the rival team who has the ball.
    Life

    NBA Free Agents Cluster in Superstar Cities, Too

    Pro basketball follows the winner-take-all geography of America as a whole, with free agents gravitating to New York, L.A., and other big cities.

  4. A cat lays flat on a bench at a park on the outskirts of Tokyo.
    Life

    Why Don't Americans Use Their Parks at Night?

    Most cities aren’t fond of letting people use parks after dark. But there are good lifestyle, environmental, and safety reasons to reconsider.

  5. a photo collage of 2020 presidential candidates.
    Equity

    Will Housing Swing the 2020 Election?

    Among Democratic candidates for president, the politics of America’s housing affordability crisis are getting complicated. Just wait until Trump barges in.

×