Why We Kill, Protect, or Leave Alone: Factors Contributing to Rattlesnake Roundups

As abhorrent as rattlesnake roundups are to many of us, we cannot dismiss them as evil events run by bad people. Instead, it may be helpful to consider why people would poison the environment with gasoline to hunt animals that they then stockpile and later mistreat and then slaughter in front of an audience, much like a circus of animal cruelty. If we understand what factors allow and encourage these events, we may have better ideas about how to oppose them. If we would like to see roundups changed, and if we would like to see support for the current roundups disappear, then part of our strategy should include understanding as much as we can about what makes people do such things. I offer the following comments in the hope that they will contribute to that understanding.

There are several factors that I believe are relevant to the reasons a person may participate in or support rattlesnake roundups. These factors may also have broader relevance to destructive and exploitive attitudes toward wildlife in general.

Whether the animal poses a threat

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Western diamond-backed rattlesnake

While snakebite death is rare in the U.S. and the safest approach to living around rattlesnakes is usually to leave them alone, it cannot be denied that a rattlesnake poses some potential danger to those who encounter it. Even setting aside the foolhardy attempts to catch or harass a rattlesnake, there is some risk of stepping on one, unknowingly putting your hands near where one is concealed, or having a young child try to pick one up without knowing what they are doing. Well-intentioned people may try to eliminate anything that could hurt their family or neighbors, and this is reported to have been part of the original idea behind rattlesnake roundups. These same people may forget that driving a car entails more risk than living near rattlesnakes. The everyday risks that people accept without a thought include things that have value to them (cars get you places) and things that do not seem to be trying to harm them. Many people have the mistaken belief that rattlesnakes will attack out of “meanness” or animosity, even though we know that rattlesnakes avoid confrontation whenever possible.

Roundups perpetuate the belief that rattlesnakes “want” to harm you by staging antagonistic encounters whenever possible, such as taunting the snakes with balloons (or even the backside of a daredevil Jaycee) to provoke strikes. The show is only attractive to spectators if the stars of the show are staring down a deadly threat and living to tell about it. Unfortunately, other snake enthusiasts who would not align themselves with the roundups do something similar by emphasizing stories of buzzing, enraged rattlesnakes and circulating photos of rattlesnakes in full defensive mode, ready to strike. While this is a part of reality, it only reflects a small sliver of what rattlesnakes are and how they live.

Those of us who have spent time around rattlesnakes could tell stories of times that we walked past one that made no move, and we could describe times when we moved one off the roadway or photographed it without provoking any aggressive response from the snake. We know that this kind of encounter is common, and it would be nice if the public knew it as well. We should not try to conceal the fact that rattlesnakes are potentially dangerous and should be left alone, but at the same time we should educate people that these animals eat, sleep, mate, seek shelter, and generally live their lives without constantly rattling and seeking to strike at something.

Whether its life is of direct benefit

We often value things in proportion to what they can do for us. Proposed conservation actions may be met with the question “what good is it?” People may scoff at the protection of an endangered minnow somewhere, while they contribute tax dollars to the management of game species that support hunting and fishing. It may seem selfish to insist that a wildlife species justify itself by benefitting us, but this is the reality for many people. If it’s no good to me, the thinking goes, then if others want to round them all up and kill them it does not matter to me.

It could be argued (and maybe should be argued) that nature is good regardless of whether it directly benefits us. We share the earth with millions of species and the only reason for thinking that we are the most important is that we are the ones making that judgment. Ask the armadillo what is the most important being on the planet and there might be a different answer! We could argue that all species are of at least indirect benefit. As John Muir said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” It is diverse and interrelated communities of plants and animals that sustain all our lives, not a handful of favorites that we designate.

However, another argument can be made for the rattlesnake alongside the argument for biodiversity. That argument is that rattlesnakes are of fairly direct benefit to humans. Rattlesnakes prey on rats and mice – thousands and thousands of rats and mice, which eat the farmer’s crops and carry hantavirus that can cause life-threatening illness. According to the CDC, infected rodents (especially deer mice) or their urine or droppings can pass the virus along to people, who may develop Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome that can be fatal. The initial outbreak in the southwestern U.S. followed a season in which the deer mouse population was unusually high. Rattlesnakes are among the predators that control rodent populations.

Additionally, venom from rattlesnakes and other venomous reptiles is a growing source of medicines that directly benefit us. Those medicines help with high blood pressure, dissolve clots that lead to heart attacks, and fight cancer. That should make rattlesnakes and other venomous snakes more valuable to those who are not interested in nature for its own sake. Unfortunately, rattlesnake roundups try to take advantage of this, issuing questionable claims that their venom is for medicine and research. The venom extracted from roundups is from an unknown mix of snakes from different localities, snakes that have often been contaminated by gasoline exposure, with venom collected in primitive and often dirty conditions. Venom experts tell us that the roundup venom is useless and pharmaceutical companies have said that they do not knowingly use roundup-collected venom (Harrison & Wiley, 2014, Fry, 2014).

What others around me do with the animal

I have wondered what it would be like to have grown up in Sweetwater, where somebody among your friends, family, or extended family probably hunted snakes for the roundup. We humans tend to imitate those around us, especially those who are like us and those who we like. If they are admired in the community, we are even more likely to try to do what they do. If, instead of hanging around at museums and nature centers, I had come of age hanging out with those who go out gassing dens at the end of winter and performing stunts at the roundup, what would I have done? I probably would have wanted to earn the praise of the roundup guys by being able to slip a hose far into a crevice so the gas could be sprayed deep. I would have wanted to learn how to grasp a rattlesnake behind the head just like my mentors, to examine the fangs and make it bite a cup or a jar so I could see its venom. I would try to decapitate with one well-placed strike of the machete, and be able to skin the snake in one smooth motion, just like the guys I grew up with. I am no different from the kids who grew up where rattlesnake roundups are a normal part of life, but thankfully I grew up around people who appreciated nature and understood that snakes were a part of it, and not to be hated.

To the extent that kids in Sweetwater, or anywhere else, see role models who treat wildlife with respect, they are less likely to be in the stands cheering the slaughter and growing up to be the next generation of roundup guys. The more they see someone like Steve Irwin, or (closer to home) Orry Martin, treating snakes as wonderful animals that are not “out to get you,” the more they may want to follow their lead. (And this highlights the need for such role models to avoid their own version of daredevil antics, which Irwin was often thought to engage in.) Every one of us who is part of a community is a potential influence on the other members of that community. The things that we say, the shows we watch, and the actions we take all contribute in some way to what others will do.

Financial and other incentives

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Skinning western diamond-backed rattlesnakes at Sweetwater

Rattlesnake roundups are one part of what is, in large part, a financial enterprise. The Jaycees buy rattlesnakes from hunters, and not just a few at a time. The Sweetwater website states that for hunters to enter some of their contests, they must have “at least 100 pounds of snakes sold to the Sweetwater Jaycees.” Fitzgerald & Painter (2000) estimated that, at Sweetwater, between an average 7,275 pounds of rattlesnakes were brought in each year from 1971-1991. Rattlesnakes are sold to meat and skin processors, the rattles and other parts are sold as trinkets, meat from the gasoline-contaminated snakes is fried and sold, and thousands of spectators are charged admission. Roundups bring thousands of dollars to the local communities yearly. Most hunters for the Sweetwater roundup have stated that they do not believe the roundups are affecting rattlesnake populations (Fitzgerald & Painter, 2000), contradicting the claim that roundups are for the purpose of controlling a dangerous pest. A Jaycee at the 2001 Sweetwater roundup told me that when they find small rattlesnakes, they toss them back as “seed snakes,” to contribute to the population of this economic resource.

One important implication is this: when a community has a strong financial incentive to continue a practice we find destructive, some alternative should be offered that provides similar financial incentives. It is not realistic to expect that they will give up something that is a substantial part of the livelihood of the community just to “do the right thing,” especially when most are not convinced that roundups are a bad thing. In Georgia, the rattlesnake roundup in Fitzgerald was replaced with a wild chicken festival that has reportedly been very successful. Elsewhere, the roundup in Claxton, Georgia converted to a “wildlife friendly” event, the Claxton Rattlesnake & Wildlife Festival. It is supported by wildlife organizations such as the Orianne Society and state wildlife agencies, and it features parades, races, pageants, and celebrity appearances which undoubtedly draw many paying visitors. It is easy to imagine that the same thing could occur in Sweetwater or Freer or other places in Texas where communities currently rely on roundups for an infusion of money. It would help if there was pressure from citizens and Texas Parks & Wildlife Department to stop some of the harmful practices such as gassing dens, combined with a willingness on the part of everyone to work with rural communities if they chose to reform the roundups.

Our capacity for empathy

Roundup opponents have sometimes angrily talked about how there could never be a puppy roundup modeled after rattlesnake roundups, highlighting how we may behave toward some animals so differently than we do toward others. The supposed images of puppies being kicked around, decapitated, and skinned would evoke revulsion and anger in virtually everyone. This is related to our capacity for empathy, which is the ability to imagine what another’s experience would feel like. Certain animal organizations raise money based on commercials featuring sad-eyed dogs and cats, shivering in fear or pain. Looking at the faces of such animals, it is easy to imagine the depth of hurt, fear, and pain that they experience. The organizations that broadcast these commercials count on our ability to empathize with those animals and our urge to do something to alleviate that suffering. Most people feel none of that empathy toward rattlesnakes, not because they are cold and unfeeling, but largely because rattlesnakes are so different and lack the kinds of social expression that a species such as the dog shows. We sense when dogs are playful, sad, fearful, and dejected, because their postures and faces make it easy for us to empathize. Rattlesnakes, on the other hand, seem foreign, different, and un-readable. These snakes are vertebrates with a well-developed nervous system, and are capable of experiencing a range of emotional and behavioral states. However, a rattlesnake’s face does not convey emotion, and lacks the “equipment” to change its expression to sad-eyed or frightened. Thus, there is much less basis for humans to empathize, and some might kill a snake with no more thought than we would have in stepping on an ant.

And yet, rattlesnake natural history includes a number of things that could make us think of them as less foreign, and a little more able to be understood from our frame of reference. Research is showing, for example, that female timber rattlesnakes stay closer to each other if they are siblings, perhaps recognizing and seeking each other out. There are observations showing mother rattlesnakes keeping their young close and presumably safer for a short time after they are born. Sharing such emerging information may help combat the notion that rattlesnakes are mindless automatons, incapable of the things that make a creature a conscious, feeling being.

We can also do whatever we can to promote the capacity for empathy in general, so that we do not see others as merely tools or obstacles. The ability to understand and care about another person’s experience is not so dissimilar to the ability to understand that an animal might feel pain or fear, and that even snakes should not be thoughtlessly abused. We can encourage empathy for animals without being emotionally manipulative (like the sad-eyed dog commercials) or too anthropomorphic (as if the mama snake cooks breakfast for her babies). We can simply point out that any animal would be frightened of something much bigger than itself, and would try to get away or defend itself if it thought it was being attacked. We can teach that even some snake mothers have ways of caring for their young, and that reptiles often recognize the landmarks for the areas where they live, have “home ranges,” and try to find their way home if moved. Such information makes the animal more understandable in terms of what humans can relate to, and so we may have empathy for it.

Fitzgerald, L.A., & C.W. Painter. 2000. Rattlesnake commercialization: Long-term trends, issues, and implications for conservation. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 28(1), Pp.235-253.

Fry, B.G. 2014. Statement from Bryan Grieg Fry. Texas Field Notes, 8(1), Pp. 12.

Harrison, J., & Wiley, K. 2014. Statement from the Kentucky Reptile Zoo. Texas Field Notes, 8(1), Pp. 11.

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January Woods Near Lake Worth

I have become a fan of winter walks in the woods, even on a cold day like today. It wasn’t bitterly cold, but the thermometer struggled to get out of the thirties in midday, before falling in the afternoon as a cold sprinkle of rain began. Under a blanket of clouds, the bottomland forest at Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge was quiet, so that the calling of crows echoed through the bare winter trees and made the place seem even quieter.

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In this season of dormancy the leaves lie on the ground in a quilt of sandy brown, reddish brown, cinnamon, tan, gray, and all shades in between. The signatures of the various tree species are written in the shapes and sizes of the leaves: the cottonwood, bur oak, beech, and other species that contributed to the carpet that I walked on.

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An old stump with openings down into the soil affords some shelter from the winter cold

I am aware that a community of wildlife lives in this forest, however quiet it might seem today. Some, like the armadillos, white-footed mice, and other mammals, may be sheltering in burrows under the ground near where I walk. Excavations that lead down under the gigantic trunks of felled cottonwood trees suggest where some of these animals may be. Reptiles and amphibians have curled up under rotting stumps, in burrows that run back under a sheltering tree root and into the ground, down in crayfish burrows, and other places where an insulating layer of soil or wood or rock stays a few degrees warmer than freezing.

Only the birds seem to have no respite from the constant search for food and interaction with their own and different species. Periodically a splash of red would appear in the brown and gray maze of branches, as a male cardinal landed nearby, dropped to a nearby branch, and flew off to a higher and more protected vantage point. Periodically, IMG_0286a chickadee or two would flit through nearby branches. And at least once, some distance off in the woods, the telltale hammering on a tree trunk revealed the presence of a woodpecker, hard at work searching for insects hiding within tree bark.

Later, I waited at the Hardwicke center for Clint to arrive. I rested for a while by the window that looks out on a courtyard with bird feeders and a small artificial pond. Icicles had formed on the little waterfall down to the pond, and the feeders were getting nonstop attention from chickadees, goldfinches, tufted titmice, and other birds.

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Lichen on a branch by the trail

Clint arrived with his son, and we walked along the caprock escarpment to continue checking temperatures inside burrows and under big slabs of the walnut-shell limestone exposed along the top of the ridge. Since November, I have several times checked temperatures under soil and within burrows or holes to see how even a relatively thin layer of soil, wood, or rock provides protection from temperature extremes. In our part of Texas, reptiles and amphibians may not have to hibernate for long periods, but they certainly seek shelter when it is quite cold, and I have been trying to learn more about the places where they go to escape the winter’s cold.

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A young nine-banded armadillo

We decided to drive down to Greer Island for a walk there before the day was through. Along the way, we saw a young armadillo foraging through the leaf litter and stopped to admire its odd, armored form as it snuffled along rooting out whatever invertebrates it could find. Those bony plates of armor at the shoulders and hips, and the nine tough bands between them allow for flexibility as well as protection. Even the tail and the top of its head are armored. Because the armadillo’s hearing and vision are not very good, it is often possible to approach pretty close for a photo, and today was no exception.

We saw several deer, and one of them was an older buck with impressive antlers. He paused and looked at us while we peered at him through the car window, and then he turned and disappeared into the woods.

There were other sightings, such as great blue herons, great egrets standing in the water or flying over Greer Island, as well as centipedes and woodlice under branches on the ground. IMG_0318Among the dormant vegetation along Greer Island’s shore we came across a nearly complete skeleton of a deer. There was really so much to see and hear, on a cold winter day in the woods around Lake Worth. At every turn there were landscapes of subtle beauty in muted colors, and sounds that drew attention to the essential quiet of the place (apart from the jets from the nearby joint reserve base, which could be tuned out, to some extent). The more years go by, the more I need these walks, and I miss them a great deal when I am imprisoned for very long in buildings and cars.

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Discovering a Little Creek

Trail-FWNCRIt was time for a walk in the woods – past time, actually – and the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge seemed like just the place for it. Summer hung tenaciously on, unaware that it had been displaced by fall, and it was warm and sunny. However, fall made its presence known through that slanting angle of the sunlight that gives everything a different sort of highlight and makes the woods look like the year is drawing to a close.

The woods were dry. The marsh had dried up completely. I passed a little depression in the woods that should have held a tiny pond, but even the grass that had grown in the mud in the center was drying. Nevertheless, walking through the forest felt good, with patches of shade and dappled sunlight in the path ahead.

Red-Eared Slider

Red-Eared Slider

Then, wandering down a hillside, the shimmer of sun on water became visible through the branches and leaves. At the bottom was a small stream with shallow water stretching across twenty feet or so, with emergent plants reaching up out of the water with small white flowers. And on a smooth fallen log stretching partly across the water, a big turtle was sunning itself. The patch of red on the side of its head showed it to be a red-eared slider, and its larger size meant it was a female. She was basking on the log, vigilant to her surroundings and ready to drop into the water to escape danger. I crept out from behind some vegetation and took a couple of photos, but when I pushed it to the next step and got closer, she disappeared into the shallow water.

Looking around, there was movement in the water in several places. Over near another fallen log, a ripple started and the fin of a carp broke the water. In other places, the ripples appeared to have been from fish activity as well, although I watched carefully for turtles coming up for a breath or frogs jumping in. While there was little fall color, some of the trees were becoming more yellow, and in the slanting sunlight the yellows and greens were beautiful.Creek-FWNCR

These little discoveries are magical. Finding a place like this, tucked away in the woods and unseen, inspires a sense of wonder even when the animals are common. It is hard to find anything more common than a red-eared slider and a carp, but being common should not rob these encounters of the sense of stumbling into something beautiful.

 

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A Quick One to the Big Bend

Sotol on the Lost Mine Trail

Sotol on the Lost Mine Trail

My thought, expressed to Clint, was: “We should sell everything we own, move our families out here, take whatever jobs we can get at the Chisos Mountain Lodge, and we’d be here every day.” Of course, this flight from reality did not last long, but we were up in the Chisos Mountains on the Lost Mine Trail, and the scent of pine and juniper combined with the bright sunshine and fresh air to form a mind-altering substance. The views of the mountains and the wonderful colors of wildflowers, the blue-green of the agaves, and the various butterflies that visited tiny mountainside meadows wove a powerful spell, and in that moment I could have lived there permanently.

The truth was that this was to be anything but permanent. We came down Friday for a quick visit to the Big Bend, driving two days for a visit of a little more than one day. The demands of everyday life and the limits of available cash dictated that this was to be a quick trip, drive the roads and look for reptiles and amphibians a couple of nights, and visit the Big Bend National Park in between nights.

Canyon lizard on a rock cut

Canyon lizard on a rock cut

The first night we drove through storms on our way south through the Davis Mountains, down through Alpine and on across the desert flats. Beyond the storms we began to see a series of Mojave rattlesnakes on the road; one was a neonate less than a foot long and others were small to medium-sized specimens. The biggest disappointment was a small long-nosed snake that had been run over on the road. These are beautiful little relatives of the kingsnakes and I hate to see them run over. Later that first night we walked the road cuts, shining the rock faces and crevices. We did not see snakes, but we found Texas banded geckos, canyon lizards, various invertebrates such as the tail-less whip scorpion, and a couple of rock wrens roosting in shallow depressions in the rock.

The desert with Chisos Mtns in background

The desert with Chisos Mtns in background

Saturday we visited Big Bend National Park, and right away we were treated to a wonderful sighting, an adult central Texas whipsnake. The snake was on the pavement, all four feet of him trying to get a purchase on any irregularities to propel forward. As soon as he reached the rocks and gravel beyond the pavement, he slipped into high gear, which for this species means rocketing forward at impossible speeds. Clint was out of the car and tried to head him off (for photos only) and the snake went up a creosote bush that was far too small to get him out of reach. Clint set something down on the ground and as soon as his attention was diverted, the whipsnake shot out of the bush and near where I was standing. However, in an instant he disappeared into a catclaw bush with a pile of rocks under it, and at that point we had to give up on any photo opportunities.

We drove up into the mountains and started up Lost Mine Trail. We saw a few lizards, including what was apparently a plateau spotted whiptail. The hiking trails in these mountains have produced some great sightings for others, such as Baird’s ratsnake. Clint and I found a regal ring-necked snake on the Lost Mine Trail one year, and Clint has seen a mottled rock rattlesnake there as well. However, we did not see snakes in the Chisos on this trip, but it was still a wonderful experience.

Saturday night we saw mainly night snakes. These are small snakes, harmless despite having enlarged rear teeth and mild toxins used in subduing the small snakes and lizards that they eat. We also saw a baby sonoran gopher snake and several snakes that had been run over.

Texas horned lizard

Texas horned lizard

Starting home Sunday, we saw several snakes that had been hit on the road as we traveled up highway 118, and at one point managed to straddle a young whipsnake stretched out on the road. We stopped, of course, but the small ones are just as rocket-propelled as the adults, and this one was gone in a flash. We were just glad this snake survived his experience on the pavement. An additional final treat was a Texas horned lizard that we managed to get some photos of.

It was a great trip, but all too short.

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A Review of Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv

(I wrote this review several years ago for the newsletter of the DFW Herpetological Society.)

When I was about ten years old, the girl from across the street asked if I wanted to go Last-childsnake hunting.  We spent the day wandering the fields in our little part of a suburb of Denver, caught a garter snake, and a lifelong passion for nature and herpetology was born.  I still remember a vacant lot where sunflowers grew tall and dragonflies hovered.  This was the kind of childhood that allowed for unstructured time spent in nature, and Richard Louv argues that there is less and less of this contact between kids and nature.  He argues unstructured play in natural areas is important not just to cultivate love for nature, but also for our well-being.  He refers to what happens when kids are cut off from nature as “nature-deficit disorder.”

Louv draws a distinction between nature on TV or nature as an intellectual exercise and direct experience of nature as kids (or adults) play in an unstructured way, building forts or wading in creeks.  None of us would say that nature on TV is a bad thing; he simply argues that it is not the same as time to lie in the grass and watch the clouds, or climb trees, or catch snakes and frogs.  He also says that exposure to nature has benefits even if it is relatively undeveloped spaces in urban landscapes.

Regarding nature-deficit disorder: the author makes clear he is not saying it is a recognized medical disorder.  However, he does quote studies showing how hospitalized patients recover more quickly when there is a view of trees through the window, and how seeing images of nature result in people calming more quickly after a stress.  Louv talks about the relationship between the epidemic of childhood obesity and the indoor and sedentary ways of modern children.  Taken together, there is a noteworthy association between contact with nature and various measures of social, emotional, and physical health.

He also speaks of conversations with children and adults, illustrating the importance of a particular place or experience.  One fifth-grader spoke of a particular place she had, where she could recover from being mad or just be at peace.  She said she dug a hole near this creek and waterfall and sometimes would sit in it and watch the trees or the sky.  She said that one day, they cut the trees down and destroyed the place. She said that it was like they “had cut down a part of me.”  On the other hand, some interviews reveal children’s separation from nature.  One boy said that indoor play was best, because “that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”

This is certainly not a pessimistic book.  It is filled with descriptions of places or classrooms where individuals or small groups of people have come up with creative ways to encourage greater connection with nature.  He talked about how, in recent years, a movement has begun with the aim of addressing nature-deficit disorder.  There is an organization called the “Children & Nature Network” to document and encourage this movement.  You can visit the website at http://www.childrenandnature.org/

Those of us who love to share reptiles and amphibians with others, and who hope for a greater appreciation of nature, wild places, and wildlife, will be glad if this book reaches a wide audience.

Richard Louv (2008) Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder (updated and expanded). Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books.

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Flowering despite the drought

The good news is: flowers have been able to rally and bloom some, despite the dry conditions. A few, seen at the Southwest Nature Preserve in Arlington, included indian paintbrush and blanket flower.

Blanket flower (Gaillardia)

Blanket flower (Gaillardia)

 

Indian paintbrush

Indian paintbrush

These flowers attracted a host of butterflies and moths (insect order Lepidoptera), including a magnificent monarch butterfly and the fascinating sphinx moth that hovers like a hummingbird.

Sphinx moth, hovering at a flower

Sphinx moth, hovering at a flower

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The bad news is: spring is staying dry and the NOAA forecast is less optimistic. Here’s the latest:

Drought forecast through July

Drought forecast through July

We’re now in an area where the drought could remain but improve, just east of that big brown zone where the drought intensifies. I’m not very optimistic.

…but I’d like to be!

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This Spring and the Drought

A quick look at data for north Texas from the National Weather Service shows that while December rainfall was okay, things have been very dry since. The January rainfall total was 0.33 inches, which is 1.8 inches below normal. February’s total was 0.41 inches, and that falls 2.25 inches below what we should typically get. What does that mean for opportunities to wade in the creek this spring, or walk through the woods and fields looking for wildlife? Drought has been with us to one extent or another for a number of years, and it has taken a toll. The smell in the air after a long rain, swift running creeks, and the thick growth of vegetation after a wet spring become longed-for memories.

NOAA map showing drought conditions

NOAA map showing drought conditions

However, the drought map provided by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contains a little hope for our part of Texas. For the period ending in June, it shows areas of north Texas in which drought may improve or even disappear. It seems a little hard to believe, but I would love to be surprised!

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