Local agriculture and wildlife hit hardest
By: Henry Faust
An uncertain future awaits Humboldt County as it experiences one of the driest years ever recorded in history. Wildlife and local industries are strained as a result of exceptionally dry conditions.
The persistent drought has taken a significant toll on cattle ranchers and salmon migration. Lawrence Dwight is a fifth-generation cattle rancher. He is experiencing firsthand the effects of the drought on his ranches.
“We’re rationing our hay. Some days the cattle aren’t being fed,” Dwight said. “I’ve been taking a day out of the week not feeding them for the last month and a half.”
Dwight stated that Humboldt is at about 23 percent of normal rainfall levels. Cattle ranchers like Dwight depend on regular rainfall to nourish the grassy hillsides where their cattle graze.
Dwight recently installed a 2,500 gallon-per-day solar-powered well on his ranch to ensure his cattle have enough water to drink.
“Right now we should be at five plus inches of rain, and we’ve only had an inch,” Dwight said.
Due to the drought some farmers had to resort to reducing their herd size.
“I’ve got a loss of 75 percent of my cattle feed, with not enough feed for the cattle they become lighter and fetch a lower price on the market,” Dwight said. “I have a daughter, and I want to leave this ranch for her in better shape than I found it.”
Eel River Recovery Project volunteer coordinator Pat Higgins studies the health of the fish population in the Eel River.
“We’ve seen the lowest river flow in 100 years, but despite the low flow conditions the Eel River still has a vital pulse,” Higgins said.
According to Higgins the ocean and climate go through wet and dry cycles that impact the fish population.
“Chinook Salmon and Steelhead are likely to survive and thrive again as the weather cycles change in the future,” Higgins said. “However, Coho salmon may or may not survive in the future, depending on the luck of the weather and how swiftly we move to restore the freshwater habitat.”
Higgins has lived in Humboldt since 1972, and relates the current drought to the one he experienced within California back in 1976.
“We’re in kind of a sensationalistic culture where people think droughts haven’t happened before, but I’ll tell ya, back in the 1930s when the Dust Bowl happened, it was seriously dry,” Higgins said.
Although Humboldt is experiencing a lengthy drought, climate change is not necessarily the primary cause. According to National Weather Service hydrologist Reginald Kennedy no single dry period of weather is any indication of climate change.
Kennedy noted that if the drought persists for another year, then Humboldt ranches would have to start importing hay, food and water.
While Humboldt County and the rest of the state are awaiting the desperately needed water, Higgins said a change in mindset could help prevent future potential catastrophes.
“As a culture we should be moving as much as we can towards water conservation as possible.”