Drought help trickles in

October 08, 2007 11:00 pm

As disasters go, droughts are as short on respect as they are on rain.

Hurricanes, by contrast, warrant hourly updates on TV, with Doppler radar pictures.

Hurricanes even have names.

But if you're a cattle rancher in Baker County — a thirsty land even in the dampest of years — an anonymous drought can about as nasty as a storm with a first name.

The severity of this year's drought in Baker County has been obvious since last spring, when it became clear that the rain showers which sometimes help to make up for a skimpy winter snowpack were not forthcoming.

Yet it wasn't until last week — well into autumn — that officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a drought disaster declaration.

Unfortunately, the federal bureaucrats' words are as empty as the county's rain gauges.

What local ranchers need most desperately, and have needed for many weeks, is money to buy hay to feed their herds — hay they couldn't grow because rain has been so scarce.

But the drought declaration doesn't bring those dollars to Baker County. Ranchers can apply for low-interest loans, but legislation that would give ranchers a stipend for hay is pending.

The sluggish response by federal officials has forced some ranchers to sell cattle. The drought will end eventually. But the rains won't replenish those diminished herds.