The tally of wildfires and drought continues to climb

Aug 27, 2021  | 6 min  | Ep4702

Forecasting is a challenge for meteorologists and economists.

This weekend, Ida is expected to elevate to a major hurricane and make land in Louisiana.

Following any hurricane, flood or wildfire the damage assessment becomes a challenge of how much financial toll was actually inflicted.

John Torpy has a look in our Cover Story.  

      The ongoing drought gripping the country could have long term impacts on farming as well as those who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.
Gloria Montaño Greene, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation: “We're working on providing immediate relief where we can, we're watching what this impact is going to be, just not during the drought months, but like, what are we going to have to provide? Where, where the, you know, there's going to be impacts of this in the late fall, early winter, even if drought's no longer in that respective part of the country.”
      According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, over 216 million acres of crops in the U.S. are experiencing some form of drought. In California alone, losses are mounting as hot, dry weather continues to starve Golden State commodities of water.
Sec. Karen Ross, California Department of Food and Agriculture: “ (11:37) “So a lot of it in agriculture will be fallowing acres, wherever we can. We do have more permanent crops now because they're high value. Um, and we've already seen people pull out almond orchards and, um, some of the aging grapevines. Um, and so that will continue to happen if this goes on.”
Decreasing river levels and climbing temperatures throughout Northern California have had a major impact on the state's $1.4 billion fishing industry. Hundreds of thousands of salmon fry perished in the Klamath and Sacramento Rivers due to rising water temperatures. Adult salmon were also impacted, as the warmer waters in traditional spawning grounds made it difficult to lay eggs.
Sec. Karen Ross, California Secretary of Agriculture: Speaker 1: (11:21) “What can we do to help the fish? Because if we crash our ecosystems, that's not good for farming either. And we're very worried about a couple of different runs of salmon extinction. And we don't want that. None of us want to that's really mortgaging the future. We can't do that.”
To help save future generations, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has trucked more than one million young Chinook Salmon to state and federal hatcheries until river conditions improve. 
Northern California wildfires continued to grow this week, claiming 1.3 million acres. The cost of fighting these fires in the Golden state has climbed to $540 million dollars.  
      The same hot dry weather impacting California also is generating wildfires throughout the Pacific Northwest. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the Bootleg Fire, Oregon’s largest fire this year, consumed more than 400,000 acres since it started in late July. The Oregon Forest & Industries Council, a trade association representing more than 50 Oregon forestland owners and forest product manufacturers, calculates that numerous heatwaves and a lack of rainfall have extended the 2021 Wildfire season by nearly two months. 
Kyle Williams, Director of Forest Protection, Oregon Forest and Industries Council: (07:16) ”The drought conditions we're seeing and, and just the sheer speed and scale that these fires are, are reaching in such a short amount of time, end up creating situations where obviously the loss to the landowner. I mean, imagine right. You've invested 40 years in a corn field, you can't harvest it until year 40 and you're sitting there on pins and needles, just praying to God that it makes it to year 40 and it doesn't, and we don't have insurance for any of that.”
      The Beaver State ranks first in the nation for production of softwood lumber. In 2019, saw mills manufactured over five billion board feet of softwood lumber according to the U.S. Forest Service. In September of 2020, a string of wildfires charred more than a million acres in less than a month. Coupled with the ongoing drought and more wildfires in 2021, most of Oregon’s $3 billion timber industry is living through a fire year instead of a fire season. 
      USDA officials point to climate change as the common denominator for the catastrophic weather events in 2021. Emergency assistance programs are helping farmers and ranchers recover from flash floods, drought and wildfires with an emphasis on conservation and climate change.
Gloria Montaño Greene, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation: “(18:17) “This is impacting agriculture in many ways in drought and soil health, um, in temperatures, um, extreme weather. Um, so I think, you know, fire, I think these are all things. And so, um, we need to be addressing all of them, but like you know, where it's, it's a larger solution.”  
         Across portions of the Midwest, the continuing  drought has slowed streams and rivers to a trickle. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows some relief in areas of the western U.S., while drought conditions were mixed across the Midwest with spotty rain showers and above normal temperatures. But despite rain gauges full of water, this week’s precipitation did little to ease drought conditions.
Dr. Dennis Todey, Director, USDA Midwest Climate Hub: “(03:02) We have some deficits going back to last year that are quite significant, you know, on the order of double digit deficits in the way a precipitation. So when you have two or three inches of rain that moves the needle the right way, but it also still doesn't cut into the complete deficit.”
       According to the latest USDA Crop Conditions Report, 60 percent of the nation’s corn crop is rated as good-to-excellent, four points behind this time last year. The nation’s soybean crop rates 56 percent  good-to-excellent, down 14 points from a year ago. 
Dr. Dennis Todey, Director, USDA Midwest Climate Hub:Speaker 2: (04:49) “We need rain immediately for some of these soybean folks. Otherwise some of the soybeans are done. Uh, we have some soybeans that are very close to being done and with the heat we're having right now that may, you know, move them to, to, to, to sudden death. So it doesn't help them at all. Now on the off side, that rain does go into soil moisture. So that, that's the next thing we're starting to talk about is okay, If we can't help this year's crop, even if we do, we need to start banking soil for next year, soil moisture for next year. So the, the, the benefit of rainfall is as we start putting moisture in the soil for next year.”
      For Market to Market, I’m John Torpy
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