The Kenwood Press
: 08/15/2014

The impact of the drought on wildlife

Sharon Ponsford

One of the main topics of conversation these days – between friends and neighbors, on the TV news programs, in the newspapers – is the drought. It would be hard not to be aware that California is suffering from a severe drought right now.

Frequently on my drive into Glen Ellen, there is a spot on our road where deer are crossing over to get to the creek. Last year, for the first time since we moved to this house in 1997, the creek stopped running. It was shocking. There were little pockets of water here and there, but basically the creek had run dry. I always slow down when nearing the area where the deer are, and I wonder what is going through their minds as they make their way to the creek looking for water.

Water sources for wildlife have been disappearing for many years. The development of wildlands for housing and agriculture has impacted the availability of water for many species. Humans draw water out of the rivers and creeks for their own use, leaving less for the birds, mammals and fish. When groundwater levels fall, vegetation struggles, and many of the roots, shrubs and grasses that wildlife depend on for food shrivel up and die. When water is plentiful, this is not a problem. California is the only Western state that does not manage its groundwater, although new legislation may be in the works to change that.

Last winter the creek filled up and was running again, but it dried up earlier than it did the year before. All living things need water to survive, and the lack of it is taking a toll on our wildlife.

Sharon Ponsford’s critter cam caught a racoon taking a dip in her bird bath, one of many animals seeking out new water sources this summer.
When we purchased our house, the former owners had a few sheep, and there was a small water tank for them. We decided to leave the tank in place as we thought that wildlife might also come and drink the water. We also have a birdbath that is kept full of fresh water. The birds need water too, and water will attract them as much as feeders do, if not more.

We have a critter cam mounted on a tree next to the water tank, and the photos tell us who is coming by for a drink, or in the case of one raccoon, for a dip. Lately, we have noticed many more visitors than we have had in the past. This is true of both mammals and birds.

State biologists predict that as the animals search for water they will converge on the remaining water holes thereby concentrating their numbers, as well as bring them into closer contact with humans. It also makes it easier for disease to spread among them, especially if they are weakened by the drought. Water fowl are especially hard hit as in California, 95 percent of our wetlands have already disappeared. Water fowl also tend to congregate where the water is, thereby increasing the potential for avian botulism and other diseases.

As if all of this isn’t bad enough, wildfires in California are depriving many wild animals of their homes, and quite often their lives. The effect of fires on wildlife is never covered in the media - it should be!