Press release from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office:
As winter weather continues to rain down on Humboldt County, local and regional partners are working together to save lives and cattle.
“We’ve had some unprecedented weather over the last two weeks and we’ve received multiple reports of cattle dying off because ranchers cannot get to their cows due to impassable roadways,” Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said. “These cattle are an economic driver, they’re starving and they’re calving right now. So all those things necessitate some drastic measures.”
Prevented from accessing their properties due to several feet of snow and downed trees, local ranchers turned to their county supervisors, who in turn contacted the Sheriff’s Office, recalling a time more than 30 years ago that public safety agencies stepped up to help under similar circumstances.
“In the 1980’s when the snow was so prevalent and ranchers were unable to get to the ranches, they called upon CAL FIRE and the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay (USCG) to help deliver hay to those communities,” Sheriff Honsal said. “We won’t know until the snow melts how many cattle have died due to these conditions. But I know this for certain, if we don’t act, there’s going to be way more that do die and it will be a catastrophe for our county.”
Putting into practice the same method used all those years ago, the Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services put in a request through the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CAL OES) to utilize helicopters from CAL FIRE and the USCG to drop hay to cattle in need. The request was approved and on Sunday, March 5, Operation Hay Drop began, with crews from CALFIRE and the USCG loading up their helicopters and dropping hay into remote mountain fields populated by hungry cattle.
“This is an atypical type of operation but it shows the resilience and effectiveness of cooperating with various agencies so in total we can better serve the communities that are affected,” said Chief Kurt McCray of the CALFIRE Humboldt-Del Norte Unit. “We are glad to help.”
While CALFIRE oversees the delivery of the hay, Diana Totten, Southern Humboldt-Area Fire Chief and member of Southern Humboldt Technical Rescue, is helping coordinate the order.
“We have about 30 ranchers that have reached out to us for assistance,” Totten said. “The hay is coming from private sources, paid for by the ranchers that are requesting the delivery. When receiving a request, we talk to the ranchers about how many head of cattle need to be fed and where the cattle are expected to be on the property. After compiling this information, we then provide it to CALFIRE to coordinate the logistics of a safe delivery.”
With more snow in the forecast, additional support from the California National Guard will arrive today with helicopters and troops to help run the operation, allowing for this assistance to extend to neighboring counties in need as well.
“We are still recovering from an earthquake, the winter storms in December and it’s been raining or snowing for about a month now. So the impact to our whole community has been drastic,” Sheriff Honsal said. “Public safety operations have been going non-stop. We’ve done probably close to 30 welfare checks and life safety operations for people who are stuck in the snow. Our people are exhausted.”
Sheriff Honsal says the additional support will help lessen the burden on local agencies, as the upcoming rain and snow could result in mudslides, flooding and additional emergencies throughout the county.
“We don’t want people to become further victims because of a snow emergency. So if you don’t have to travel, please don’t travel. Please don’t check on things you don’t have to check on. Please don’t visit places where you have no idea what the conditions are,” Sheriff Honsal said. “We urge people to stay home, stay warm, only travel when it’s necessary and look out for each other.”
Due to the overwhelming demand for assistance from community members impacted by this weather emergency, public safety personnel are unable to deliver emergency supplies to community members. However, Sheriff’s deputies and local public safety personnel are able to help community members evacuate should their situation be life-threatening. If you are in need of assistance, please call 707-445-7251 or 9-1-1 for emergencies. If you are a rancher in need of assistance, please contact 707-223-2455.
To see the latest road conditions, visit: humboldtgov.org/roads and quickmap.dot.ca.gov. To see the latest weather forecast, visit: weather.gov/eka. For information regarding how to prepare for a winter weather emergency, visit: ready.gov/winter-weather.
For updated information regarding Humboldt County’s emergency response, please go to humboldtsheriff.org/emergency and visit @HumCoOES on Facebook and Twitter.