California Drought Threat to Wildlife

CaliforniaCalifornia is facing an extreme drought as it nears the driest part of the season, and along with the water shortages that could face the state, the lack of rain and snow-melt is also becoming a major threat to wildlife. In what is being called the worst drought in 100 years, the number of species on the endangered list is quickly rising, and fear of total extinction of some is feared.

The lack of snowfall throughout the Sierra Nevada mountain range this past winter reached unprecedented levels, and now with spring arriving much too soon, the effects can already be felt throughout the state. 63 percent of California is said to be going through an extreme drought, fueled by the lack of snowpack which hovered around 20 percent of its normal figures. As land continues to dry up, fish hatcheries are becoming barren and animals like deer and larger mammals are migrating in search of water sources.

As larger predators migrate, there is also fear that bears and mountain lions will move closer to rural neighborhoods, putting people and animals both at risk. As natural food shortages run low, bears, whose diet is primarily vegetation will begin to search for easier sources, causing them to rummage through dumpsters in search of food. The fish industry is also taking a hard hit, as rivers, streams and lakes reach record lows or have dried up altogether. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife currently lists 34 species or subspecies of fish that are endangered, and if the drought continues, the threat to wildlife will be significant.

In northern California, the billion-dollar salmon industry is having to make massive maneuvers by transporting nearly 30 million baby salmon from the hatcheries, and trucking them west toward the coast. People within the fishing industry fear that if these types of drastic measures are not taken, fish populations will dry up right along with the waterways.

While 63 percent of the state faces extreme drought, according to U.S. Drought Monitor, 100 percent of the state is facing drought conditions, ranging from moderate to exceptional. 2013 was the state’s driest year on record, and with a slow start to 2014, conditions do not appear to be improving. The chain of events is already being felt in cities such as Montague, where it is feared that water could potentially run out by the end of summer. Residents have been urged to cut back on usage in fear of running dry.

As lands continue to dry up and California is faced with extreme drought conditions, water conservation may become more prevalent across the state. In a statement this past Friday, Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order that will aid in strengthening the ability of the state to manage water and habitats during the drought. While conservation may help slow some of the problems, California wildlife migrations due to the drought’s threat will continue as the animals search out more plentiful water sources. Predators may follow prey from the mountainsides, moving along with the herds, and moving closer to civilization. While drinking water becomes a problem for residents of California, an extended drought could have tragic results as it moves its way up and down the food chain.

By Johnny Caito

Sources:
Mercury News
Al Jazeera America
Mother Jones
NBC News

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