Local pine timber still affected by stubborn drought

By LEA RIZZO, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 3/19/17

The drought that began last year with months of minimal rain has continued into 2017 and is still impacting areas around the state, as well as Walker County.

Figures released Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor for Alabama say that about 24 …

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Local pine timber still affected by stubborn drought

Posted

The drought that began last year with months of minimal rain has continued into 2017 and is still impacting areas around the state, as well as Walker County.

Figures released Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor for Alabama say that about 24 percent of the state is facing severe drought conditions or worse, compared to almost 27 percent a week ago. However, the drought monitor focuses on broad-scale conditions and advises that local conditions may vary. Nearly 5 percent is in extreme drought.

Walker County is mostly covered in severe drought, the middle level of drought, although the southern most tip of the county is in extreme drought.

According to the National Weather Service in Birmingham, the normal February precipitation for Jasper is 5.18 inches. In February, the total rainfall in the city was 1.49 inches.

A press release from the Alabama Forestry Commission said, “Although the rainfall during December and January relieved much of the drought and related wildfire issues in Alabama, the harmful effects and complications associated with drought continue to plague the state’s forestlands. While exact economic impacts are unknown at this time, the losses may be significant.”

Chris Wright, of the Walker County office of the Alabama Forestry Commission, confirmed that “we’re still in a drought. It’s gotten better but we’re not completely out of it yet.”

According to a Monthly Drought Outlook released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the month of March, drought conditions will persist through the northern portion of Alabama, including Walker County.

NOAA said rainfall earlier this week “did little to change the overall drought conditions found across the area.”

“The way it’s affecting us is through the loss of pine timber,” Wright said.

“Pines of various ages and sizes are dying, from seedlings to mature trees. Most of the affected pines have brown needles and pitch tubes, indicating bark beetle infestation,” according to a February press release from the AFC.

NOAA also reports that “soil moisture values in general are running below normal in most of Central Alabama.”

Cade Grace of the Boldo Community, a farmer with the Walker County chapter of the Alabama Farmers Federation, said the drought has impacted the crops they were able to grow.

While cotton thrives in hot weather, Grace’s bean and corn plants didn’t fare as well. It was so hot that he didn’t even attempt to plant any wheat, he said.

“The last good rains we got were probably the first few weeks of August. Then it didn’t really rain substantially again until the week of Thanksgiving,” Grace said. “At our farm, we picked cotton, shelled corn and cut beans for 93 straight days with no rain. That’s a long time with no measurable rain.”

He added that although the rain the county has received since Jan. 1 is about an inch and a half ahead of the amount of rain received in the same time period last year, it’s not enough to grow certain crops.

“I think, at least in this area, we’re still about 8 to 9 inches of rain behind where we need to be,” Grace explained. “We need some good, substantial rain.”