The National Grange has asked Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbit and Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman to visit Montana and see for themselves the terrible destruction wrought by wildfires.

Specifically, the Grange is asking that they visit Ravalli County, which contains almost half of the 840,00 acres lost to fire in Montana. In separate letters, National Grange Master Kermit Richardson stated, "But words, even the persuasive words of these local citizens and public officials describing the vast extent of the damage to the natural resources of the area, are insufficient to accurately convey the scope of this tragedy on these communities." Richardson said it is "paramount" that the secretaries travel to Ravalli County.

The Grange is especially concerned that, though federal assistance programs have been put into place to help residents cope with losses, there are no specific programs to assist farmers, ranchers and timber industries in the fire-damaged areas. These groups are faced with removal of dead standing trees, reseeding, re-fencing, recreating water channels and rebuilding holding pens, corrals and feeding areas. The drought and fires have made hay and other feed scarce as winter approaches. Additionally, wild game depravation is a serious problem. Fires have forced game into the farming and ranching areas in search of food. The Grange is asking that federal loans, grants, tax breaks and cooperative agreements be granted the agricultural and timber interests in these areas in order to soften the financial burden of recovery.

Richardson's letter backs up several letters from Ravalli County officials and citizens to Secretaries Babbit and Glickman describing the devastation and asking for a visit. "Through our presence in Washington, we can help the people of Montana and other rural areas get sorely needed federal assistance during this time of crisis," Richardson stated. "Communities, like Ravalli County, are concerned that their rural and remote character means their needs for special assistance will not be heard by Washington policy makers. The National Grange will not let that happen," Richardson emphasized.

The National Grange is the nation's oldest general agricultural organization, founded in 1867. It has grassroots units in 3,600 local communities, in 37 states, with nearly 300,000 members. Its activities include and serve farm and non-farm, rural families and communities on a wide variety of economic, educational, legislative and family issues.

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