Dixie Fire Becomes Largest Single Blaze in California History
On Friday, the Dixie Fire became the largest single fire in California’s history (one larger incident –2020’s August Complex Fire – was comprised of multiple fires in the same vicinity). The fire, which has been burning since July 14, grew by a staggering 120,000 acres between Thursday and Friday, scorching a total of 432,813 acres by Friday morning and earning it the unfortunate distinction.
As of this morning, the fire had burned 489,287 acres across Butte and Plumas counties (in addition to smaller portions of Lassen and Tehama counties) leaving in its wake untold destruction, including the town of Greenville in Plumas County, which was largely destroyed by the conflagration on Wednesday. As of press time, the Dixie Fire is only 21% contained.
USFS Shifts Firefighting Strategy as Feds Promise Greater Resources
Last Monday, US Forest Service Chief Randy Moore – until recently the Regional Forester for the Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region, which covers virtually all of California – issued a memo to agency personnel temporarily halting the agency’s ‘let it burn’ policy in favor of a more aggressive suppression strategy. “At this time…managing fires for resource benefit is a strategy we will not use,” Moore wrote. “We are in a ‘triage mode’ where our primary focus must be on fires that threaten communities and infrastructure.”
The shift in strategy comes after the agency’s ‘let it burn’ strategy drew the ire of Californians include Rep. Tom McClintock (D, CA-4), who criticized the agency’s policy for enabling the rapid spread of the Tamarack Fire, which has already burned nearly 70,000 acres throughout Alpine County and western Nevada state. Forest Service officials initially declined to suppress the blaze when it was merely a quarter-acre in size, claiming in a Facebook post that because of the terrain surrounding the fire it posed “no threat to the public, infrastructure or resource values.”
Governor Newsom joined the calls for a shift in strategy during a July 30 Western governors meeting with President Biden regarding wildfires. “There’s a culture that, too often, is, ‘Wait and see,’” Newsom told President Biden. “We can’t afford that any longer. This was a federal fire. They waited. And what we saw is the fire took off because we didn’t put enough initial assets.”
While Chief Moore’s shift in strategy is welcome news for California ranchers suffering the impacts of another historically catastrophic wildfire season, the head of the Forest Service indicated that the focus on aggressive suppression may not extend beyond 2021. “When western fire activity abates, we will resume using all the tools in our toolbox, including wildfire,” his memo reads.
Two days later during a meeting with Governor Newsom on the Mendocino National Forest, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack promised greater resources for suppressing and preventing wildfires in California. Vilsack committed to providing “more boots on the ground” and billions of dollars for forest management projects – including a “down payment” for such fire prevention work in the federal infrastructure bill currently being negotiated in Congress.
USDA to Begin Publishing Two New Reports to Provide Greater Transparency in Cattle Markets
On Thursday the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (USDA-AMS) announced that it will begin publishing two new cattle reports under Livestock Mandatory Reporting. Beginning today, USDA-AMS intends to begin producing a National Daily Direct Formula Base Cattle report that is meant to provide greater information about the foundational prices used in cattle market formulas, grids and contracts. Additionally, beginning tomorrow the USDA-AMS will also begin publishing a National Weekly Cattle Net Price Distribution report, which will show the volume of cattle purchased at each different level of pricing within those formulas, grids and contracts. This is a priority which CCA affiliate the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), has long urged the USDA to adopt to increase transparency in the cattle markets.
The formula includes all transactions which do not fit the definition of either a negotiated cash, negotiated grid or contract trade. Most formula pricing agreements utilize a base price from which premiums are added and discounts subtracted. However, the base prices for these transactions are determined through means other than direct, buyer-seller negotiation. The National Daily Direct Formula Base Cattle report will share national base price information of formula agreements. The National Weekly Cattle Net Price Distribution will report what levels (price and volume) trade occurred across the weekly weighted average price for each purchase type—negotiated, negotiated grid, formula and forward contract. These new reports will make it easier for producers to better compare their marketing arrangement to others and allow them to make more informed business decisions on their operations.
NCBA’s Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane was quoted saying, “USDA’s announcement is a significant step toward increasing transparency in the cattle markets. As Livestock Mandatory Reporting awaits congressional reauthorization, it is encouraging to see the Administration taking proactive steps to broaden the scope of this critical information tool. NCBA remains committed to maximizing market transparency and looks forward to building on this momentum to shed more light on the fed cattle trade.”
This action is part of USDA’s attempt to deliver on President Biden’s Executive Order 14036 on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, which directed USDA to, “enhance price discovery, increase transparency, and improve the functioning of the cattle and other livestock markets.” The new reports are also an attempt to further the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to promote the resilience of critical supply chains as directed by Executive Order 14017 on America’s Supply Chains. By providing greater insight into the nearly 80 percent of cattle market traded outside of the cash negotiated spot market, USDA intends the new reports to shine more light on the prices paid to cattle producers and the overall market dynamics underlying the prices consumers pay at the grocery store.
UPDATED: SWRCB Curtails Pre-1914 Rights in Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Watershed
Last Tuesday the SWRCB voted to adopt an unprecedented emergency curtailment regulation for the entire Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed. The emergency regulation allows the SWRCB to issue curtailment orders to pre-1914 water rightsholders to protect water supplies necessary to meet health and human safety needs, preserve water needed to prevent salinity from the ocean from intruding into the Delta (which would make water unusable for municipal, industrial and agricultural purposes) and to minimize impacts to fish and wildlife.
The regulation curtails all pre-1914 appropriative water rights in the San Joaquin River watershed and affects diverters in the Sacramento River watershed with a priority date of 1883 or later (though some water rights with earlier priority dates may also be curtailed within certain Sacramento River tributaries). The regulation covers around 5,000 users in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta area, with exemptions only for human health and safety and non-consumptive use such as hydroelectric power generation. Notably, this is the second emergency regulation curtailing diversions from the Delta. In June the SWRCB cut junior rightsholders in the Delta, meaning those whose water rights were established after the current system was created in 1914.
While rightsholders will be mailed any curtailments issued under the emergency regulation, the emergency regulation states that affected water rightsholders must either subscribe to the Delta Drought email distribution list or frequently check the SWRCB’s drought webpage to receive updated information regarding water diversion curtailment and reporting orders and water unavailability. A list of water rights for which water is unavailable under the emergency regulation can be found here.
As previously noted in Legislative Bulletin, curtailment orders do not implicate water already diverted to storage in stock ponds and other reservoirs. The SWRCB has clarified that “curtailment of water rights does not limit the use of water previously stored in a pond or reservoir. Therefore, uses of previously stored water authorized by a permit, license, registration or certificate can continue.” However, regulations may require additional reporting on the amount of water previously diverted to inform further curtailments, as is the case with the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta emergency regulation.
SWRCB Orders Additional Curtailments for the Russian River Watershed
As previously reported in Legislative Bulletin, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) in June approved a Resolution and Emergency Regulation which established a framework for curtailing pre-1914 and riparian water rights in the Russian River watershed.
That Emergency Regulation tied water curtailments to storage levels in Lake Mendocino. For instance, the Emergency Regulation authorized the SWRCB to issue curtailment orders for the Upper Russian River watershed if Lake Mendocino’s water storage fell below 26,109 acre-feet prior to August 1 (yesterday).
On July 30, the SWRCB announced that “Storage levels in Lake Mendocino have fallen below the August 1, 2021, storage threshold.” Accordingly, last week the SWRCB announced that it is issuing curtailment orders to all 861 water right holders in the Upper Russian River watershed.
The curtailment orders require rightholders to submit an Online Curtailment Certification Form within seven days of the issuance of the orders (meaning certification is due today). Rightholders’ login and password information will appear atop the curtailment order issued by the SWRCB; the Curtailment Certification Form can be completed here.
According to the SWRCB’s announcement, the agency has “also released an analysis of the Lower Russian River demonstrating that approximately 222 right holders need to be curtailed to meet demands on the river. The board anticipates issuing orders to these right holders this week.”
CCA will continue to keep members apprised of drought developments, including curtailment orders on the Russian River and elsewhere.
California Wolf Population Grows by a Dozen
Last Tuesday, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) issued a July/August update of its “California’s Known Wolves” document. Of greatest significance, CDFW reports that two wolf packs within the state produced litters of six pups each this year, expanding California’s known wolf population by at least a dozen.
The Lassen Pack – the state’s largest wolf pack – produced a litter of pups for the fifth consecutive year, with the female wolf designated LAS09F birthing six pups this year (LAS01F, the pack’s other breeding female which produced pups in prior years, has not been detected by wildlife officials this year).
Siskiyou County’s Whaleback Pack – previously designated the Whaleback Pair – also produced a litter of “at least” six pups this year, according to CDFW.
CCA will continue to keep producers apprised of the state’s growing wolf population and of any developments in state and federal policy governing management of California’s wolves.
2021 CCA Scholarship Applications Now Available
Applications for the 2021 CCA Scholarships are being accepted now through October 1. In 2020, CCA awarded over $51,000 in scholarships to students studying agriculture, although scholarship amounts and quantities vary year to year.
Current CCA members (producer, feeder or YCC) that are currently enrolled (or accepted for fall 2021) at a university or college are eligible to apply. Past recipients of the CCA scholarship program may also apply again this year. For a complete list of awards and to download the application visit calcattlemen.org/scholarship. Contact Katie in the CCA office at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Receive Updates in Your Inbox from the California Cattle Council
The California Cattle Council has launched a new monthly email to keep all cattle producers and interested subscribers updated. Anyone is able to sign up for the newsletter by visiting calcattlecouncil.org and subscribing in the popup form. The monthly emails will focus on highlighting recent investments the Council has made as well as hearing an update from a producer board member each month.
PLC Introduces Emergency and Disaster Tool Dashboard
Last last month, CCA affiliate the Public Lands Council (PLC) unveiled a new Emergency and Disaster Tool Dashboard. According to PLC, the dashboard was developed “In response to persistent drought conditions and pervasive wildfire conditions across the West,” and “outlines federal disaster and emergency programs available to producers who need assistance.”
The dashboard also includes some non-federal assistance programs, such as programs established by certain western states and information regarding the Internet Hay Exchange.
While not as extensive as PLC’s dashboard, the CCA website also provides details about federal wildfire disaster assistance available for ranchers. Additionally, a recording of a CCA-sponsored webinar held last November regarding Post-Fire Relief and Recovery Programs for Ranchers can be viewed here.
USDA Soliciting Public Input on Meat Processing Infrastructure
As previously detailed in Legislative Bulletin, President Joe Biden’s July 9 Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy and a subsequent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) press release announcing the agency’s intention “to make significant investments to expand processing capacity and increase competition in meat and poultry processing to make agricultural markets more accessible, fair, competitive, and resilient for American farmers and ranchers.” USDA’s announcement included a commitment of “$500 million in American Rescue Plan funds to expand meat and poultry processing capacity.”
Now, USDA is soliciting public feedback on how it should invest those $500 million in funds. On July 16, the agency filed a request for public comment in the Federal Register “seeking input from the public on how to invest an estimated $500 million of American Rescue Plan funds to improve infrastructure, increase capacity, and hasten diversification across the processing industry.”
The request for public feedback poses several specific questions within six broad categories: (1) general considerations, (2) fair treatment of farmers & workers and ownership considerations, (3) loans and other financing considerations, (4) grant considerations, (5) technical assistance considerations and (6) partnerships and combined funding considerations.
Comments are due to USDA no later than August 30, and can be submitted here by clicking “Comment” in the upper left hand section of the page.
Finally, USDA will be scheduling a series of stakeholder meetings on this topic; CCA will keep members apprised of those meeting times as information becomes available.