VALE In August, Malheur County became the fifth Oregon county to declare an emergency as drought conditions and high temperatures continue to sap ranch and farmland and spark wildfires throughout the region. Harney, Union and Klamath counties declared fire and emergencies in July, and Baker County declared a drought emergency in May.
In Malheur, county judge Dan Joyce says that more than 200,000 acres of rangeland have been ravaged in his area by either fire or drought. Average annual rainfall is 6 to 7 inches, but there have been only 2 inches so far this year. Drought forecasts see little change in conditions through the fall, and surface water availability is getting worse.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a few more declarations before the summer is over,” says Jim Johnson, water quantity specialist for Oregon’s Department of Agriculture. The counties are asking for state and federal disaster relief. Johnson says the governor is expected to declare a disaster in those counties and to ask for federal aid.
Joyce says Malheur’s $80 million cattle industry is reeling. Alfalfa output is down, burned out rangeland can’t support cattle, and because of the drought, meadows and pasturelands have not had green grass since a year ago. He adds that there have already been forced sales of cattle because of feed scarcity. “One of the ranchers who has been here for 75 years said it’s the worst drought in his lifetime.”
“We ran out of water three weeks ago,” says Margene Eiguren, of Eiguren Ranch near Arock in southeast Oregon.
“Our range reservoirs are dry. If we don’t get a good winter, we could end up with no water for grazing. If the drought continues, we’ll have to liquidate these cows. If you have to liquidate the cows, you liquidate your means of making a living.”
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