Local ranchers face backlog of cattle due to coronavirus. Now comes the #drought — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Carbondale rancher Bill Fales says that in 47 years of ranching in the Roaring Fork Valley, he’s never sees hay production as dismal as in 2020. “I used to think that one of the advantages of ranching here is we had a really stable climate,” he says. Photo credit: Laurine Lasalle/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Laurine Lassalle):

Ranchers were left with a backlog of cattle earlier this year when meatpacking plants had to close or slow production due to COVID-19 outbreaks among employees and public health orders forced restaurants to shut down indoor dining.

They are now facing the compounding challenge of a drought, which is decreasing the amount of available hay and forcing more tough choices about herd management.

“We had cattle that we would generally sell in like February and March, and that market kind of fell apart right then,” said Brackett Pollard, the Holy Cross Cattlemen’s Association local president who owns a ranch in Silt.
Pollard was finally able to sell some of his cattle in mid-July.

According to data collected by the Food and Environment Reporting Network, there have been eight outbreaks in meatpacking plants in Colorado that have led to more than 500 COVID-19 cases. That includes 316 cases at a JBS facility in Greeley. The facility had to close April 15 to 24. There have been nearly 40,000 meatpacking workers infected nationwide.

COVID-19 impacts at meatpacking plants, as well as market uncertainty as demand fell off from restaurants and schools, meant that commercial feedlots — where ranchers send cows before they are slaughtered — were packed and unwilling to buy additional cattle, according to ranchers interviewed for this story and a U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

So Pollard, like many other ranchers, didn’t have any other choice but to keep his yearling cattle that would have been sold or slaughtered earlier in the year.

That meant he had to take land that he would normally use for growing hay and repurpose it to pasture these yearling cattle, which are between 1 and 2 years old. Cattle are typically slaughtered when they are between 18 and 24 months old.

The change in operations could affect him in the long run.

“We not only do have to keep them because there was nowhere to go with them, and then all of a sudden we find ourselves in the middle of a drought,” Pollard said, noting that he was running low on hay to feed his cattle. “We basically got to the point where we had to get rid of them, whatever price was being offered.”

Pollard said he sold his cattle at their current market value, but if COVID-19 hadn’t happened, he probably would have received $200 more per head.

For the first time since 2013, the entire state of Colorado is under some level of drought conditions. As of Sept. 1, 35% of the state was under extreme drought, including all of Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties. Photo credit: Laurine Lassalle / Aspen Journalism

Beef prices rose, but cattle selling prices went down

On July 22, the USDA released the Boxed Beef and Fed Cattle Price Spread Investigation Report, which investigates the nationwide surge in retail beef prices. Between late March and early April, a large number of workers at meat-processing plants got sick, which by mid-April led to facility closures and slowdowns that reduced beef production.

The weekly number of slaughters nationwide fell from more than 684,000 head at the end of March to under 439,000 at the end of April, a decrease of 36%.

“This reduced demand for cattle may have contributed to lower fed cattle prices,” according to the report’s summary of impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Feedlot placements by producers and feeders were 22% lower in April than in 2019.”

Consumers began stocking up on beef in grocery stores in March when public health orders closing restaurants to indoor dining were first introduced. Demand from restaurants fell off dramatically, and many producers struggled to quickly shift away from restaurants and toward grocery stores, according to the report.

Consumers continued stocking up in April, as news of plant closures and fears of beef shortages spread, further driving up the cost of groceries.

The weekly average choice boxed beef cutout price — which measures the value of a beef carcass based on prices paid by end users — rose from about $255 per 100 pounds at the beginning of April to more than $459 by the second week of May.

In the meantime, packers purchased fewer fed cattle and dropped cattle prices because of the meatpacking-plant closures or production slowdowns. Fed cattle prices decreased by 18% between early April and early May.

The gap between the selling price of fed cattle to packers and the retail price of boxed beef increased from $66 per 100 pounds in early April to $279 in the third week of May, a 323% increase, the largest spread since 2001, according to the report. The gap started to narrow in June, from $279 per 100 pounds in the middle of May to $119 in the beginning of June.

A slowdown in production at meatpacking plants due to COVID-19 left many ranchers with a backlog of cattle earlier this year. Bill Fales, a Carbondale rancher, says that consolidation among meat packing operators was a factor in the market conditions that led to a historic gap between the price ranchers were getting for cattle and what consumers were paying. Photo credit: Laurine Lassalle / Aspen Journalism

Working through packer issues

According to Bill Fales, a Carbondale rancher, the gap between what ranchers are getting for their cattle and what consumers are paying for beef illustrates the problem with “packer consolidation,” or fewer meatpacking firms controlling more of the marketplace.

“It really showed the problem with the kind of conventional beef system because people who had cattle ready to be slaughtered got just slammed,” Fales said. “If they could get them killed, the price they were selling for went way down, (and) the packers started paying way less and charging way more on the other side of the plant — to the consumers.”

Fales wasn’t impacted by the drop in selling prices, he said, because his cattle are part of a program called Country Natural Beef.

Country Natural Beef is an Oregon-based cooperative of nearly 100 family ranches located in 13 Western states and engaged to produce beef from vegetarian fed cattle. The co-op, which works mainly with the grocery chain Whole Foods, sets its prices in January for the fiscal year.

Fales said at the outset of the pandemic, he experienced a slowdown in the amount of cattle he could send for processing. But as Whole Foods’ shelves were emptying in April, the grocery chain began asking for more beef. The cooperative was able to shift cattle to different processors to keep up with the demand, Fales said.

Amy Daley and Nicholas Krick are partners in Daley’s family-owned ranch in New Castle that also is part of the Country Natural Beef network, and they also sell beef products through their own business, nickandamysfarm.com. Like Fales, they were able to maintain their selling prices but still were left with an excess of cattle.

“We ended up reducing the amount of head that had been scheduled to go in to be processed, which left a lot of our animals still in the feedlot or unable to be processed,” Krick said. “We’re spending more money for that feed when they should be a beef product.”

Krick said they still have a backlog of cattle but are getting back on schedule.

Bill Fales cutting hay near Carbondale last month. This summer’s drought led to a 40% smaller crop than what he would normally harvest at the first cutting of the season. “I’m going to have to sell cows because I just don’t have enough hay and it’s too expensive to buy to feed to cattle,” he says. Photo credit: Laurine Lassalle / Aspen Journalism

Dry weather challenges ranchers

Perhaps most worrying to ranchers is the drought. This summer’s windy, dry conditions have made it difficult to grow hay, which is used to feed the cattle over the winter.

The National Drought Mitigation Center’s map and data released Sept. 1 show an extreme drought in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties.

For the first time since 2013, the entire state is experiencing some level of drought. About 54% of Colorado is experiencing severe drought, and more than 35% extreme drought.

When drought is considered severe, snowpack and surface water levels are low and river flow is reduced, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. When the drought becomes extreme, which is a worse condition, wildfire risk increases, pasture conditions worsen and reservoirs are extremely low. At any stage, drought forces farmers to reduce planting and ranchers to sell cattle.

Fales was cutting hay near Catherine Store in Carbondale, a few miles from his ranch. This year’s drought didn’t allow the hay to grow as high as usual.

“I used to think that one of the advantages of ranching here is we had a really stable climate,” Fales said. “I’ve been ranching here since 1973 — I’ve never seen less hay production than this year.”

Fales, who was hoping for a better second hay cutting, said his first cutting is down 40% from what he would normally harvest. “I’m going to have to sell cows because I just don’t have enough hay and it’s too expensive to buy to feed to cattle,” Fales said.

The hay shortage will probably lead to a surge in production costs for ranchers.

“We’re going to be having to make some decisions this fall, going into reducing herd numbers or buying hay — and from where we are getting that hay,” Daley said.

When a drought occurs, Pollard said, the increase in hay prices usually leads to a decrease in production and a surge in prices paid by consumers if demand remains the same.

For ranchers, he said, spring was the cattle-raising season, so many weren’t selling cattle yet.

“Now comes October,” he said, “(and) if the market hasn’t rebounded by then, there’s a real chance it could be very difficult for young ranchers or farmers, or those who have a lot of debt.”

This story ran in The Aspen Times in print and online on Sept. 7 and online in the Vail Daily on Sept. 7.

Winter blast could bring a foot of snow to areas around #ColoradoSprings — The Colorado Springs Gazette

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

Snow is predicted to clear the air of wildfire haze and smell from the Cameron Peak fire in northern Colorado and blazes burning outside the state. But the storm will bring with it high winds, low temperatures and slick roads.

The precipitation is predicted to start as rain and then turn to snow during the day as temperatures plummet. The high Tuesday is predicted to be 36 degrees, a precipitous drop from the record-setting high of 97 Sunday.

Warm ground temperatures make it difficult to predict how much snow could accumulate, but up to 5 inches could fall in town Tuesday and Wednesday, said Pamela Evenson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo…

Those who live near Monument Hill could see 6 to 9 inches of snow and Teller County residents could get up to a foot, she said…

Other mountainous areas of the state could receive more than a foot of snow from the cold front moving down from Canada, she said. Monarch Pass west of Salida is predicted to get 12 to 18 inches and the eastern San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado could see 2 feet of snow, Evenson said.

The predicted low temperature of 27 degrees Tuesday night could damage crops and outdoor plumbing, according to the National Weather Service.

High winds are also possible with gusts up to 35 mph during the day Tuesday.

#Covid19 and recreation: too much poop, too many people — Writers on the Range #coronavirus

From Writers on the Range (Todd Wilkinson):

Mark DeOpsomer of Bozeman, Montana, is a backpacker with lots of miles on his soles. For almost four decades he’s gone to the remotest corners of the Northern Rockies.

On a recent trek 24 miles into the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, he was relaxing along the banks of a creek, when out of nowhere a pack-rafter floated by. “I’d never seen any rafters before in The Bob but now they’re all over the place,” he said.

A few weeks later, he was driving to a trailhead at the end of a bumpy 50-mile-long dirt road along the Wind River Range of Wyoming. “There’s a game we like to play guessing the number of cars you expect to see in the parking lot,” he said. “Given that this is a strange year, I thought maybe 30. But there were over 200 and the scene was total mayhem.”

License plates on vehicles hailed from two dozen states and makeshift camps (without designated bathrooms) were everywhere.

At Forest Service campgrounds near Jackson, Wyoming, piles of human waste and toilet paper were ubiquitous and so was litter. The smelly messes were spread throughout an area in the middle of public land frequented by bears, including at times the famous Jackson Hole Grizzly 399 and her cubs.

When talking with managers of state and federal public lands these pandemic days, two issues popped up: what to do about large amounts of human feces deposited in wild places and how to handle far too many visitors. Both issues have served as a wake-up call to both land managers and environmentalists about the downsides of recreation.

Dispersed camping near twin lakes. Photo credit: Uncover Colorado via their Facebook page.

“It’s like we’ve stared into a future that wasn’t supposed to arrive for a few decades,” said Randy Carpenter, who works with the community-planning organization FutureWest, in Bozeman. “The crush of people and the ecological impacts of rising recreation uses is right here, among us — right now — and it’s transforming the character of wild places.”

A paper published in the scientific journal PLOS One reviewed 274 scientific studies completed between 1981 and 2015 that examined the effects of recreation on a variety of animal species across all geographic areas and recreational activities. Kevin Crooks, a conservation biologist at Colorado State University, said given what we know now, “It might be time to establish limits on public access to protected areas and encourage changes in the behavior of recreationists.”

Though conservation groups continue to point fingers at logging, mining and ranching, they’ve been slow to acknowledge impacts from outdoor recreation.

Last winter, at a U.S. Forest Service meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, biologists noted that backcountry skiing and snowboarding were harming a dwindling, isolated herd of bighorn sheep. Displaying what can only be called a crass attitude, one skier was heard to remark: “Well, the sheep have had these mountains for 10,000 years. Now it’s our turn.”

Justin Farrell, the author of the book Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West, grew up in Wyoming, watched it change as big money moved in, and now teaches at Yale. He told me recently, “It’s too easy for all of us to look the other way — a sort of willful ignorance — to not really see and examine the actual impacts of recreation.”

Some recreationists insist on a quid pro quo: They’ll advocate protecting public land only if they’re allowed to use some of it. It’s happened in Idaho over wilderness and recently in debates over how to safeguard wildlife habitat in the Gallatin Range of southwest Montana.

An outdoor industry eager to get its slice of an $800 billion pie helps fuel the rush to the West’s public lands. Farrell says that outdoor-product manufacturers push hard for increased access to public lands in part because more users boost their bottom lines.

Meanwhile, many state tourism bureaus – like those in Montana, Wyoming and Utah — spend millions of dollars advertising national parks and other places that are already uncomfortably overcrowded.
“Critical discussions about recreation are rare because these activities are layered with a thin veneer of innocence,” Farrell said. This recalls a narrative of heedless use that goes back to the 19th and 20th centuries: Exploit a special place until it’s used up and then move on, leaving waste, damage and displaced wildlife behind.

The problem is there aren’t many true wild places left to exploit.

Todd Wilkinson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, (http://writersontheerange.org), a nonprofit spurring lively conversation about the West. He is the Bozeman-based correspondent for National Geographic and The Guardian and founder of Mountain Journal (http://mountainjournal.org)

Here’s a look at The Best Portable Toilets for Camping from Heather Hansman writing for Outside Online.

Looser standards for showerheads could send a lot of #water and money down the drain — The Conversation


Most Americans take water for granted, but many areas are struggling with water shortages.
slobo/Getty Images

Robert Glennon, University of Arizona

For more than 25 years, Congress has directed U.S. government agencies to set energy and water efficiency standards for many new products. These measures conserve resources and save consumers a lot of money. Until recently, they had bipartisan support.

But President Trump has turned efficiency standards into symbols of intrusive government. His administration has opposed many of these rules, including standards for light bulbs, commercial boilers, portable air conditioners and low-flow toilets. His latest target: showerheads.

The Energy Policy Act of 1992, passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush, set the maximum flow rate for showers at 2.5 gallons per minute. President Trump is proposing to increase the rate, which he calls inadequate to wash his “beautiful hair.”

It may sound funny, but it’s not. As someone who writes and teaches about water law and policy, I know that the U.S. water supply is finite and exhaustible. Most Americans take water for granted, but as population growth and climate change exacerbate water shortages, experts increasingly argue that water policy should promote conservation

EPA graphic describing water and energy savings from efficient showerheads.
The Trump administration is proposing to roll back a regulation that has spurred manufacturers to produce high-efficiency showerheads.
EPA

When is a showerhead not a showerhead?

On Aug. 13, the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to amend the existing standard for showerheads. The documentation prints out at 25 pages of mind-numbing rationalization. Its definition of showerheads exemplifies the byzantine logic behind this policy shift.

For example, the proposed rule provides three images of fixtures with between three and eight heads attached to a single pipe coming out of the wall. So long as none of the individual heads has a flow greater than 2.5 gallons per minute, the measure asserts that each fixture satisfies Congress’s quest for water and energy conservation.

Images of shower outlets with multiple heads.
Under the Trump administration’s proposed rule, each of these fixtures could produce up to 2.5 gallons of water per minute from each separate nozzle. Current law limits the entire device to 2.5 gallons per minute.
DOE

How can the Energy Department allow shower fixtures with as many as eight heads, each emitting 2.5 gallons per minute? For context, Webster’s dictionary defines a showerhead as a “fixture for directing the spray of water in a bathroom shower.”

But the proposed rule interprets “showerhead” to mean “an accessory to a supply fitting for spraying water onto a bather.” With this sleight of hand, a congressional rule limiting showerhead flows can be deftly avoided by installing a hydra-headed fixture with multiple “showerheads,” each flowing at 2.5 gallons per minute.

Vertical column with seven nozzles.
The proposed new rule classifies this device as a ‘body spray,’ not a showerhead.
DOE

The agency also released a fourth image of a wall fixture with seven nozzles, which the rule would not subject to the 2.5 gallons per minute maximum. The Energy Department deems these fixtures a “body spray” rather than a showerhead because they are “usually located” below the bather’s head. (Of course, the person showering may be short, or the plumber may install the fixture high on the shower wall.) Body sprays may have six or eight nozzles with no flow limits.

The sad part of this foolishness is that the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program, which identifies water-efficient projects and promotes water conservation, has been spectacularly successful, at virtually no cost to consumers or the regulated community. Showers constitute 17% of residential water use. That’s 40 gallons per day for the average family, or 1.2 trillion gallons annually in the United States.

WaterSense fixtures and appliances have saved Americans more than 4.4 trillion gallons of water and US$87 billion in water and energy expenses since the program began in 2006. Low-water-use fixtures – including showerheads, toilets and washing machines – are now the accepted norm across the United States.

Some early products, such as the first high-efficiency toilets, had some hiccups. But that was 20 years ago. Today, notwithstanding President Trump’s declaration that “people are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once,” consumers embrace low water-use fixtures because they work well, save money and reduce water and energy consumption.

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Tapped out

Today the United States faces serious water problems. Georgia and Florida are fighting a prolonged battle over flows in the Apalachicola River. Excessive groundwater pumping is causing water levels in wells to plummet and springs to dry up. As I explain in my book, “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It,” farmers are competing with cities for water.

COVID-19 has helped to make the affordability of water a national issue. Some rural areas, such as the Navajo Nation, where many people need to haul water to their homes and villages, have higher rates of coronavirus infection. People who have lost their jobs find themselves unable to pay their water bills, which in turn compromises the financial stability of water providers.

More than 2 million Americans don’t have running water in their homes, according to a 2019 report.

Allowing showers to use more water would have several unfortunate consequences for cities across the country. It would increase the amount of water cities must treat; raise the chances of raw sewage overflows at water treatment plants – especially in cities such as Washington, D.C. that combine storm and sewer water; and increase the amount of energy used to pump and treat water.

Disrupting low-flow fixture rules would create special hardships for western cities, such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas, that have struggled with water shortages for decades. Both cities remarkably reduced their total water use between the 1980s and 2020, despite rapid population growth, partly by converting residences to low water-use fixtures.

Water is not just another natural resource. Without it our bodies cease to function, our crops dry up, and our economy grinds to a halt. We can’t make any more water, so it makes sense to use the water we have wisely.The Conversation

Robert Glennon, Regents Professor and Morris K. Udall Professor of Law & Public Policy, University of Arizona

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.