In the grasshopper hot zone

Montana State Roundup

Published March 1, 2004  | March 2004 issue

Farmers and ranchers near the Flathead Indian Reservation in the northwestern corner of the state are praying for a cool, wet spring. Last year a plague of clearwinged grasshoppers devoured half the hay crop and ruined grazing land throughout the area, putting the tiny communities of Lone Pine and Hot Springs squarely in a grasshopper hot zone identified on federal pest maps. If this spring is as dry as last year, crops and rangeland along the eastern edge of the reservation will teem with hoppers—as many as 20 adults per square yard—once again. That could spell disaster for local farmers and ranchers already coping with severe drought. In 2001 grasshoppers caused about $25 million in crop damage in Utah alone.

The federal government will match up to 50 percent of the cost of pesticide control on hopper-infested land. But for aerial and ground spraying to work, landowners must carefully monitor grasshopper hatching in the early spring. Once the first generation of insects matures, they multiply exponentially and take to the air, munching through crops and animal forage in ever-widening circles. Rains would forestall that second hopper plague—and bring relief from the drought—raising the hopes of ranchers and farmers.

Phil Davies