Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Doing the Rain Dance

Oh, the weather outside is… beautiful, sunny, warm, dry. Yesterday the thermometer topped out at 74 degrees. Not exactly what you hope for in the middle of what should be the best waterfowling weather of the season.

This year’s duck season has felt like an absolute roller coaster. One minute we’re complaining because there is no weather and no ducks. The next we’re singing the praises of arctic fronts blowing through and providing wonderful waterfowling action. Now we’re back to complaining. The weather has returned to mid-Spring conditions without the prospect of a drop of rain or snow anywhere in sight.

What is an ongoing irritant for a poor waterfowling season has begun to have larger, more serious consequences. The water conditions in California are downright scary. Coming out of Spring 2008, the snow pack was 24% of average and only 3.4 inches of rain had fallen in the lower regions. Reservoirs were draining faster than they were filling.

By the end of summer most reservoirs and lakes were at record low levels and the State of California declared a major drought for the second year in a row. According to the California Department of Water Resources,

"California is facing the most significant water crisis in its history. After experiencing two years of drought and the driest spring in recorded history, water reserves are extremely low."

So what does this have to do with hunting? Well, no water equals no habitat. No habitat equals no breeding grounds. No breeding grounds equals no breeding. You get the picture. And Northern California counts on a large number of locally grown ducks, particularly mallards, which fill hunter’s bags for a good portion of the waterfowling season.

Additionally, the lack of water combined with a faltering economy and subsidy programs led to a moderate growing season of Northern California’s most important crop – rice. The result is that fewer acres were planted than we’ve seen in over a decade. Rice acreage is critically important for rearing and fueling local breeding mallards.

These same acres are equally as important in the Fall as rice farmers count on flooding rice stubble and leasing those acres to duck hunters for supplemental income and the ducks count on the residual grain as a major winter food source.

Due to water rationing, we have had fewer of those already limited acres flooded this Fall. A large number of hunters lease duck blinds in rice country for an average of $6000 per blind. So the consequence this year was that most rice field duck clubs experienced delayed water deliveries, and in some cases, no water at all.

Yup, believe it or not I had a fellow hunter tell me that the water district that provides water to his club informed the farmer that there would no water this year at all. And there is nothing anyone could do about it. There is simply not enough water to go around. Nobody wins.

I wrote here about my own challenges with our duck club being three weeks late with water. Fortunately we were lucky to get some water, but the water district limited the duration to two weeks instead of the normal thirty days before they shut off the pumps. From then on out we depend on Mother Nature and steady winter rains to keep the fields topped off until the season wraps up at the end of January.

This year that simply has not materialized. Rice fields are drying up all over the Valley and by this time next week our own decoys will be laying on their side in the mud. Ducks don’t hang out in the mud.

What makes me nervous about the beautiful weather we’ve been experiencing is that it will be compounding what is already a very difficult situation. I shutter to imagine what next Fall will bring if the water conditions do not change before the Spring thaw, if there is anything to thaw.

So if you know of an effective rain dance, could you send it to me? If it works, I’m offering a guided duck hunt and all the fixings. Oh, and I’ll even throw in a hug.


Blessed said...

wish I could help but my rain dances never work :)

Tom Sorenson said...

That's crazy that Cal is having such dry warm weather since here in Idaho and I know in parts of Washington, we're having the coldest and harshest winter we've had in quite a while.

The Hunter's Wife said...

It is 70 there and -1 here today in blizzard conditions.

I think my rain dance will be one to also help keep me warm.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Yeah, I went outside yesterday and it was the first day I felt it: Spring was on the way. Yardwork not far behind it.

Terry Scoville said...

I am doing the rain dance for sure and I do hope it reaches us all before the end of hunting season. That's only 2 weeks away here in Oregon. We too have had record highs for the past week and no ducky weather in sight.

Serious problems for breeding waterfowl and us hunters too.
Excellent article!

Anonymous said...

Ok, well I actually have some Native Indian ancestry. I will do what I can for you, Jon! Let me talk to the rain gods.

Live to Hunt.... said...

Thanks Mel! I can make offerings and living sacrifices if that helps!

SimplyOutdoors said...

70 degrees you say. As I write this it is -1. Too bad we couldn't truck some of this snow we have out to you guys. I'm sure I have a few extra inches in my driveway that I could loan ya.

I'll say a prayer that you get some rain, but I won't dance. No one wants to see that.

The Downeast Duck Hunter said...

Here I sit watching the ocean freeze and the ice floes forming on the tidal flats, currently enjoying a high temperature of 5 degrees today. Climate does alter from year to year, I haven't used the air conditioner in my truck for the last three years and last year up north we had a record amount of snowfall.

I bet I could count on two hands the number days that went up above 70 degrees last year here in downeast Maine. Different worlds...

Deer Passion said...

Omgoodness... I can't believe how wonderful the weather sounds there! It's been in the single digits here, but I'll definitely do a dance and try to send you some of our moisture! Hope the weather gets better for ya!

Live to Hunt.... said...

Thanks Deer, I am actually starting to feel a little sheepish about complaining about the weather. Everyone else is dealing with such frigid extremes, I should count our blessings!

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

I hear ya! These last two weeks are going to suck. Pheasant weather, not duck weather. Grrr...

...BUT, we're in decent shape rainwise so far this year, so long as this hig pressure system goes away and we get our usual February and March torrents. Pray for those!