Prairie county, montana

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Prepared by:

Westwind Enterprises, LLC

P.O. BOX 370

TERRY, MT 59349


Prairie County
Growth Policy

Citizens of Prairie County
Prairie County Commissioners
Todd Devlin

Ann Marie Davis

Bill Leach

Developed by the
Prairie County Land Planning Board
Quinn Haughian

Lon Reukauf

Dennis Teske

Rick Harding

Lorin Larsen

Prepared by

Westwind Enterprises, LLC

Table of Contents

Prairie County…………………….……….. 4
History, Custom & Culture……………… 5

Statement of Purpose……………………… 7
Jurisdiction………………………………… 7
Public Process……………………………… 8
Growth Policy Update process………………8
Interagency Coordination……………………8
Prairie County Policies………………………9
Infrastructure Strategy………………………12
Subdivision Review process…………………14
Inventory of Existing Characteristics

  1. Population………………………. 15

    1. Goals & Objectives…….. 20

  2. Housing…………………………. 21

    1. Goals & Objectives…….. 28

  3. Economics…………………… 30

    1. Goals & Objectives………. 46

  4. Local Services & Public Facilities.. 48

    1. Goals & Objectives………. 57

  5. Land Use…………………………. 59

    1. Goals & Objectives……… 65

  6. Natural Resources……………….. 68

    1. Goals & Objectives………. 75

Summary of Key Findings……………………….. 77

List of Tables, Figures …..………………………. 79
ApPENDIX i: Growth Policy Requirements (MCA)……82

Map I: Average Annual Precipitation……………83

Map II: Montana Rail System…………………….84

Map III: Prairie County Ownership……………..85

Map IV: Prairie County Wind Speed……………86

Prairie County ranked 39th in the State of Montana (in 2000) in total land area, covering over a million acres of land in the east-central plains of Montana. The terrain is primarily benchlands, valleys, and coulees with some very rugged badland areas. Elevations in Prairie County vary from 2,100 feet to 3,260 feet. Prairie County is bordered by six different counties including: Dawson and McCone Counties on the north, Garfield County on the northwest, Custer and Fallon Counties on the South, and Wibaux County on the East. The Town of Terry is the county seat and is situated between Miles City and Glendive on Interstate 94.
Major waterways include the Yellowstone River and the Powder River and their tributaries. The Yellowstone River spans approximately 671 miles and is the principal tributary of the upper Missouri River. The Yellowstone River runs the width of the county from southwest to northeast and is a vital source of both ground and surface water for the residents of Prairie County. The river provides irrigation for crops and water for livestock as well as recreation for residents and tourists. The Powder River spans approximately 375 miles from northeast Wyoming to southeast Montana, where it flows into the Yellowstone River. There are many creeks and streams in Prairie County, which are considered invaluable to this fairly dry region.

Prairie County is primarily an agricultural-based community. Prairie County’s top commodities include dry edible beans, sugarbeets, sheep, cattle, barley, and wheat. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad runs through Prairie County and the Town of Terry and provides seasonal commodity shipments of dry edible beans.

The largest employers in Prairie County include the Hospital, the County, Buffalo Rapids Irrigation District and School District #5. The public school system is a priority in Prairie County. Our County’s support of both curricular and extra curricular activities offers proof that education is important to us. Organizations such as 4-H clubs, rodeo associations, the Prairie County Chamber of Commerce, the American Legion, churches, and their activities, various lodges, roping and riding clubs, and others have been a very important part of the way of life of our County. These organizations not only serve as social groups but as learning and teaching experiences for everyone in the county.

The climate in the area is considered “Continental,” with cold and dry winters, a cool and damp spring and fall and hot and dry summers. There are exceptions to this classification. The “Chinook” interrupts the cold winter weather for days causing warm periods and snow dissipation. This weather change aids ranchers because it opens the ranges for winter feeding. Another exception is the Arctic cold invasion, which brings extremely cold weather, snow, and northerly winds. Temperatures during this period, which may last several days, will reach lows of -20 to -40 degrees. The average daily temperatures from 1937 to 1996 are displayed below.


Average Daily Temperatures


High: 26 degrees F

Low: 6 degrees F


High: 89 degrees F

Low: 61 degrees F

Source: Lon Reukauf
Prairie County’s climate is erratic and variable, but mostly mild and dry. The average length of the growing season is about 110 days in the hills and about 130 days in the Yellowstone Valley. The frost-free period ranges from 105 to 125 days. The average annual precipitation in Prairie County ranges from 10 to 14 inches. The majority of precipitation falls from April 1st - September 30th, with May and June being the wettest months. See appendix Map I: NRCS Average Annual Precipitation (1961-1990).
Tourist attractions in Prairie County include the Yellowstone River, which is known for its high quality of agates and fishing opportunities, and the badlands, which display a spectacular scenic view of the area. Attractions in the Town of Terry include the Lady Cameron Gallery which displays the photographic work of Lady Evelyn Cameron, a pioneer woman who moved to the Prairie County area at the turn of the nineteenth century and photographed startling images of wildlife and cowboys. The Prairie County Museum exhibits seven buildings, including a Caboose, Depot, Homestead, Outhouse, two previous State Bank buildings and the Lady Cameron Gallery. The area attracts tourists to the area for hiking in the badlands, fishing, hunting, photographic opportunities, and birdwatching. Several local retail stores are located in the Town of Terry, providing tourists with the option to go shopping and enjoy a cup of coffee while they visit.
In the early 1800s, before the expedition of Lewis and Clark, trappers and mountain men were penetrating Montana to hunt and to trade with the Indians. Prior to white settlement, Prairie County was Crow country from the Black Hills, north to the Missouri and west to Billings. The Crow Indians were pushed into this area by white men. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson acquired the Louisiana Territory (Louisiana Purchase) from France. This expanse of land extended west from the Mississippi River and included most of present-day Montana. To find out more about the region, Jefferson appointed Meriwether Lewis and William Clark as leaders of an expedition to travel to the Pacific Ocean. Lewis and Clark made the first systematic exploration of Montana and passed through the Prairie County area in July 1806, after exploring the Louisiana Purchase. Upon Lewis and Clark’s return to St. Louis, and amid their glowing reports, many trading companies were formed.
The American Fur Company established the Fort Union trading post on Montana’s present eastern border in 1828 and then continued up the Missouri River to establish Fort Benton. Established in 1847, Fort Benton was an important trade and navigation center and is Montana’s oldest permanent white settlement.
In the mid-to-late 1800s, the United States Army established cavalry posts at Fort Keogh in Miles City and Fort Custer in Hardin. During the 1860s and 1870s, the Indian wars began. Riverboats hauled supplies from St. Louis using the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. Captain Marsh hauled military supplies for the military men: Alfred H. Terry, George A. Custer, Nelson A. Miles, and Myles W. Keogh.
The Northern Pacific Railroad began surveying and constructing a route to the West during the 1870s. The railroad through Montana was completed in 1883, making it suitable for permanent settlement by homesteaders and families. The Milwaukee Railroad operated between 1847-1985 and was completed through Prairie County in 1908.
The Homestead Era began during the early 1900s, bringing numerous settlers to the area. The open range became fenced, large herds of wildlife gave way to wheatfields and individual farms and ranches were formed. These homesteaders were a tough lot, but maintained a simple lifestyle by living off the land, helping each other in time of emergency, and providing their own entertainment. Rodeos, brandings, roping contests and neighborhood dances continue to be popular in Prairie County.
The area now known as Prairie County has fallen under many jurisdictions. Originally part of the Louisiana Territory when President Thomas Jefferson purchased it from France in 1803, it was later part of the Territories of Nebraska, Dakota, Idaho, and later Montana, which became a territory in 1864. When the Territory of Montana was formed, it was necessary to divide it into counties. The First Territorial Legislature established the original nine counties and seven more were added before the territory became a state. After several years of appealing to Congress for statehood, Montana joined the union as the forty-first state on November 8, 1889. Prairie County was formed in 1915 from parts of Dawson and Custer Counties.
There are currently three towns in Prairie County, including Terry, Fallon, and Mildred. The town of Fallon is considered one of the oldest towns along the Yellowstone River. Fallon was considered one of the largest stock shipping points in the world during the 1890s. Fallon’s current population, including the surrounding area is listed at about 200 residents.
Mildred is a town created and developed by the Milwaukee Railroad. When the locomotives no longer needed Mildred’s water and coal and with the development of highways, the town’s population declined dramatically. Currently less than 20 people live in the area.
Although the drought years of the 1930s drove many from the county, sons and daughters of some remained to farm and ranch. People take great pride in their land and heritage. Through leasing and purchases, private properties are larger now; thereby, the owners have gained strength to withstand the forces of nature, which are always present in some form or other.
Western culture is still evident in many ways. Love of the land and maintaining it as efficiently as possible for themselves and future generations, love of horses, wearing of western clothing, and neighborliness also continue to be a part of the culture. Hunting, fishing, and agate hunting are very important to the County’s residents. This way of life has survived the drought years and the coldest winters, and will continue for the intrepid and resourceful people of Prairie County. The character of this land and its people is indeed unique.
Prairie County is a vast area of land with abundant wildlife, productive farm and ranch land, a variety of natural resources and minerals and impressive scenic beauty. At the turn of this century, Prairie County is faced with issues that will shape the future for younger generations as well as older generations who will guide the development of this area. “Eastern Montana is a region occupied by people who are being called upon to exercise greater imagination, increasingly creative economics, greater trust and reliance upon political entities and decisions and an enhanced understanding of global interdependence.”
This Growth Policy is being prepared to guide decisions about development and land use in Prairie County. Under state law, “The planning board shall prepare and propose a growth policy.” State law defines “Growth Policy” as synonymous with comprehensive or master plans.
The County Land Planning Board and the Board of County Commissioners have chosen to take a proactive approach in addressing issues of Prairie County residents that might not otherwise be addressed. Planning allows the community to envision its future and proactively work to achieve it instead of just reacting and moving from one short-range, quick-fix solution to another as events occur.
By State law, the Growth Policy must address the entire jurisdictional area of the Planning Board. This jurisdictional area excludes the one incorporated town of Terry. This separate jurisdiction is sanctioned under state law to develop its own Growth Policy. Unincorporated towns in Prairie County include Mildred and Fallon and they are included in the jurisdiction of this Growth Policy.

This growth policy acknowledges and supports the philosophy that all Prairie County individuals, groups, and entities have the right to provide input into the creation, implementation and amendment of this policy. This document is a vision for the County as whole rather than one individual, group or special interest. A growth policy vision simply cannot exist without active public participation by all interested parties helping to define that vision. Therefore it was the intent of the County Commissioners, the Planning Board, the facilitator, and all parties involved to provide a methodology to encourage and foster public input and participation.
The Prairie County Land Planning Board initiated preparation of this planning document pursuant to Montana statute. The legally mandated role of the Planning Board is to “(1) assure the promotion of public health, safety, morals, convenience, order or the general welfare and for the sake of efficiency and economy in the process of community development, the Planning Board shall prepare a Growth Policy and shall serve in an advisory capacity to the local governing bodies establishing the Planning Board.”
Prairie County has had a Planning Board for approximately fourteen years. The most recent county plan was the 1993 County Comprehensive Plan. The County Commissioners charged the Land Planning Board with the responsibility of preparing a Growth Policy. This document, prepared by the Board, is in response to that charge.
Prairie County, like most other rural counties in Montana, has limited staff and financial resources. Therefore, the Prairie County Growth Policy will be implemented as resources are available. The PCLPB will review the Growth Policy at least once every five years and revise if necessary. Residents requesting review of the Growth Policy may contact the PCLPB and/or County Commissioners or submit in writing a request for review.

A primary purpose of this Growth Policy is to foster cooperation and coordination between federal and state management agencies, other counties and Prairie County. These interests include but are not limited to grazing, farming, mining, recreation, wildlife, transportation and all other activities related to, and reliant upon, the availability of natural resources on federal, state managed and private lands within their respective jurisdictions. Prairie County encourages coordination and cooperation between agencies in respect to, but not limited to, responding to emergencies, such as fire and wildfire suppression ; noxious weed control; and maintenance of county, state and federal road systems.
Federal and state laws require federal and state agencies to coordinate with the local government and consider the local land use plans in the process of planning and managing federal and state lands within the geographic boundaries of Prairie County, Montana. Federal and state agencies proposing actions that will impact the County, its citizens, and resources therein should prepare and submit in writing, in a timely manner, report(s) on the purposes, objectives and estimated impacts of such actions to the Prairie County Commissioners, Box 125, Terry, MT 59349. The County Commissioners will then determine the appropriate action to be taken by the County, and provide input, information and comment on proposed actions or activities. The County Commissioners will also notify other government agencies of actions that are proposed by the County Commissioners affecting various resources and amenities in Prairie County and solicit other agency input and comment. The purpose of this exchange of information and input is to minimize impact upon and maximize benefit to the residents of Prairie County as well as other members of the public.
Prairie County is a collaborating agency with the Bureau of Land Management on the Big Dry RMP. Prairie County cooperates with Federal and State agencies responsible for the recovery and protection of all threatened and endangered species within its boundaries.
Prairie County encourages all current and future collaborating agencies involved in work in Prairie County to respect Prairie County’s goals, objectives and policies.
Policy 1: In compliance with federal and state laws, all federal and state agencies shall comply with the Prairie County Growth Policy Plan and coordinate with the County Commissioners for the purpose of planning and managing federal and state lands within the geographic boundaries of Prairie County, Montana.
Policy 2: Federal and state agencies proposing actions that will impact Prairie County shall prepare and submit in writing, and in a timely manner, reports on the purposes, objectives and estimated impacts of such actions, including economic, to the Prairie County Commissioners. These reports shall be provided to the Prairie County Commissioners for review and coordination prior to federal or state initiation of action.
Policy 3: Prairie County believes that there should be a “no net gain” on public lands sales or exchanges, thus protecting the county’s tax base.
Policy 4: Recognizing that land is essential to local industry and residences, it is the policy of Prairie County that the design and development of all federal and state land disposal, including land adjustments and exchanges, be carried out for the benefit of the citizens of Prairie County.
Policy 5: Federal and state governments should not obstruct agricultural opportunities on their administration of respective lands, along with the appropriate multiple uses.
Policy 6: Opportunities for grazing livestock on federal and state lands should be continued at levels consistent with custom and culture and the protection of equitable property rights, while maintaining proper stewardship of all lands.

Policy 7: The general public, the State of Montana, and local communities shall be notified of, consulted and otherwise involved in all federal and state land adjustments in Prairie County. County concurrence shall be required prior to any such land adjustments. Furthermore, Prairie County shall be involved in the planning of federal and state land adjustments occurring within the county’s political boundaries.
Policy 8: The Montana Department of State Lands office shall assist Prairie County in coordinating land exchanges, so as to maximize patented fee-simple lands.
Policy 9: The County and its citizens support the continued multiple use of federal and state lands in Prairie County.
Policy 10: Prairie County will protect private property ownership.
Policy 11: Federal land agencies shall not acquire any private lands, or rights in private lands, within Prairie County without first ensuring that:

  1. A minimum parity in land ownership status is maintained.

  2. Private property interests are protected and enhanced.

Policy 12: Prairie County believes all land use decisions should take into account the effect on the economy with recognition of the fact that agricultural production is the largest segment of its economy and the affects of other area businesses, the County’s tax base and its citizens.
Policy 13: Incentives for improving grazing lands and promoting good land stewardship on Federal and State lands shall be developed through:

  1. Encouraging permittee ownership of range improvements;

  2. Fee schedules will adhere to current fee formula schedule.

3. Allowing subleasing of equitable property rights;

  1. Maximum allotment management plan flexibility during natural disasters and normal grazing management;

  2. Increasing grazing capacity or allowing other economic benefits to accrue to permittee making investments in range betterment.

Policy 14: Federal and State agencies shall develop and coordinate with Prairie County Commissioners an effective Section 8 process pursuant to the Public Rangeland Improvement Act of 1978 and shall implement procedures and guidelines to account for the allocation and expenditure of range improvement funds.
Policy 15: Prairie County supports no net loss of livestock grazing for any permittee without consultation and coordination with the Prairie County Grazing District and the Prairie County Commissioners.
Policy 16: Federal and state agencies need to coordinate their management practices with- Prairie County with the Prairie County Commissioners, appropriate county board, and affected party with regard to grazing.
Policy 17: Prairie County will endorse the compliance of mining interests in all applicable laws and regulations, terms and conditions of operating permits, and sound reclamation practices.
Policy 18: The Prairie County Commissioners and Prairie County Conservation District shall be notified of all state, interstate, and federal actions that have any impact on the water of the county prior to such actions being initiated that affect water allocations of over 50 acre feet. Official notification must be acknowledged in writing by the Commissioners before it is considered valid. In addition, such proposed actions, including federally proposed Wild and Scenic River designations, shall be coordinated with the Prairie County Commissioners and County Water and Land Use Plans prior to adoption and implementation. It is the intent of the county to assist federal and state agencies in the planning and management of the county’s natural, cultural and economic resources.

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