‘The critical point is here’: ranchers, Polis address drought disaster in NW Colorado
To ranchers in northwest Colorado, the drought crisis is nothing new.
Wednesday, a tour of Colorado’s Drought Taskforce, which includes directors of the departments of Natural Resources, Agriculture and Local Affairs, was in Craig and Steamboat Springs, visiting with locals and viewing the effects of the region’s historic dry spell.
Among those with whom they spoke was Mike Camblin, a local rancher. Camblin said that media and pop culture have warned and told the stories of droughts of previous generations, and, though groups like the Maybell Irrigation District have taken huge steps to work toward more sustainable ways to bring water to ranchers, there’s still a lot of destruction happening as a result of the most recent droughts affecting the West.
Camblin, a cattle rancher whose family has spent generations on the Western Range, had to sell over 100 cattle of his commercial herd as a result of the drought. Meat from Camblin’s livestock — in recent years — has been sold in Walmart stores across the country. Because of the sale, this decision means that 120 head of local cattle will no longer make their way to be sold in stores.
“We’re fourth-generation ranchers,” he said. “We have two cow herds, a purebred herd and a commercial herd, and we’ve made the very hard decision to destock, (meaning) we’re going to sell our cows. We did that because just for us, it doesn’t make sense to try to feed through (the drought).”
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Camblin said that he enacted a drought management plan on his ranch to no avail. After implementing the plan in March, Camblin said nine inches of moisture was supposed to gather on his land between November 1 and April 1, but by July 31, only 5.1 inches had been gathered.
“Our drought plan didn’t even come close to what we needed,” Camblin said. “So to us, you know, it just makes sense (to sell the stock). It’ll take us three or four years to feed through this and make it pay, so we’re going to go ahead and destock. (It was a) tough decision there, but it is what it is.”
Though in the grand scheme of nationwide meat sales, one less rancher isn’t going to cause the collapse of the industry, according to Callie Hendrickson, droughts like those in recent months can have a large residual impact on how people across the U.S. not only get their meat, but other produce as well.
“If you don’t have water for agriculture, you won’t have food,” Hendrickson, executive director of the White River Conservation District, said. “So it definitely matters to you and to me. I would also say when we talk about supply and demand, we’re not going to reduce our demand on agriculture.”
At Wednesday’s drought tour, stakeholders traveled throughout Steamboat Springs and Craig to see firsthand how these droughts have hurt local agriculture and business.
For the latter half of the tour Wednesday, Gov. Jared Polis made an appearance to listen to local and state water officials, ranchers and Moffat County officials as they discussed concerns around drought conditions in the Western Range.
“The good news is we made a larger-than-expected historic investment in our state water plan — $50 million in the state legislature,” Polis said. “Bad news is it’s not enough.”
Polis added that the drought is not just a rancher issue, or a Western Colorado issue, and the droughts happening on the Western Slope could have drastic effects on the rest of the state.
“You have to include in that conversation the fast-growing suburbs, the cities’ big users of water, and make sure that we can find a way where that doesn’t dry up parts of Colorado that are an important economic engine. (This is an) important part of who we were, who we are and who we will be now in the future.”
Alden Vanden Brink, a chairman of the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable, said the group has spent years making plans and funding studies to help ease the time and effort required to complete water planning.
“We can commit ourselves to create a better future, moving past standardized complex barriers for our children,” he said. “The state will have a better tomorrow, getting projects to the finish line. The critical point here. The critical point is here, requiring action. We are there.”
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