"SAND SPRINGS, Mont. — In this part of Montana’s rugged eastern prairie, Erwin Weder and the other ranchers and cowboys are not used to feeling kicked around. But as Weder drives his pickup truck onto a bluff to gaze out over “Big Sky Country,” he feels a bit defeated.
Hundreds of miles of meadows and scrub grass that feed tens of thousands of beef cattle are gone, replaced by the charred soil and smoldering prairie dog burrows that the state’s largest wildfire in nearly three decades has left behind. But after the massive multimillion-dollar firefight, another battle has emerged in the wide open spaces where there is often distrust of the government: What should the federal role be in helping Montana’s livestock industry respond to, and recover from, the blaze.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) originally rejected Montana’s request for assistance, a process that ranchers say left them feeling forgotten and misunderstood by Washington. Now, many in this deeply conservative region are weighing their wariness about bureaucrats against their need for help."