Action needed on drought

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board June 14, 2013 09:04 am

Oregon and federal officials need to respond quickly to the Baker County Board of Commissioners’ June 5 declaration of a drought emergency.

The need for state and federal aid, which the county’s declaration is intended to summon, becomes more likely with the passage of each dry day.

On Wednesday evening a range fire near Huntington forced the temporary closure of the westbound lanes of Interstate 84.

The blaze indicates how dry the county’s rangelands already are, a week before the solstice.

Those rangelands are a vital source of summer forage for the county’s beef cattle herd — a $53 million business in 2012 — but even places that don’t burn might be useless for grazing.

The county’s only commercial fruit-grower, Eagle Valley Orchard near Richland, has already suffered a major loss due to a hard freeze in April.

And a looming shortage of irrigation water could cause big problems for farmers and ranchers throughout the county.

It could well be, of course, that Baker County will get by without any assistance — we’ve certainly done so before during difficult circumstances.

But the commissioners were wise to take action before the situation turns into a crisis.

Now their counterparts at the state and federal levels need to do the same.