Drought relief no substitute for drought prevention

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, October 21, 2015

We are happy to report in today’s newspaper that some farmers who produce livestock forage may be eligible for federal relief due to the ongoing drought.

Many Mississippi counties were already eligible for USDA relief, and it is time Pearl River County farmers got their fair share, too. Last week, federal drought monitoring showed that our county was mostly experiencing a severe drought, with portions of the county experiencing an extreme drought.

While none of us are in as bad a shape as part of California, where some residents have run out of drinking water, anyone who’s driven through the county in the past week could have seen hills awash in brown.

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The desiccated vegetation is of course a fire hazard—last weekend’s brushfire is evidence enough of that—but it may have an economic impact, too.

First, for farmers who in recent years have made proverbial hay from sales of their literal hay to ranchers in perpetually dry areas like Texas.

Second, if more fires do break out, residents may lose deer stands, sheds or even homes. Also, our firefighters and their resources will be stretched thin.

Firefighters will rightly choose to save a farmhouse over some brush or farmland, but that’s small comfort to the owner of the burned land.

While being in a drought is not as immediately dangerous or devastating as being in a flood, a drought can nevertheless damage communities and be costly at the local and federal level.

And droughts, like flooding, are not necessarily acts of chance. Floods and droughts are, in part, the result of manmade policies and laws that we can control through the ballot box.

We owe it to ourselves to protect our county and our state and make sure we don’t suffer economic harm due to environmental catastrophes we could have either prevented or lessened.