Salmon are thriving; bald eagles are perching; the San Francisco garter snakes are vibing.
The increasing snowpacks around northern and southern California, which caused a *wild* avalanche that was captured by a driver near Palm Springs this week, coupled with more rain showers in lower elevations has been very good for the parched state. For the first time in years, there are now parts of California that are experiencing no drought conditions. Per the U.S. National Drought Monitor, most of the coastal areas in the southern and middle parts of California are completely drought-free, as are the Sierras and other high-elevation areas that have received record-breaking snowpacks as of late.
Even for us here in the Bay Area, the most recent spat of storms has completely moved us out of “moderate” and “severe” drought levels, leaving the region in an “abnormally dry” state.
#DroughtMonitor improvement. Rainfall over the last few months has improved #CA soil moisture and streamflow levels and reservoir levels, while the snow has increased mountain snowpack to much above-normal levels. Groundwater levels remain low and may take months to recover. pic.twitter.com/vmPFCPsZYQ
— NWS Bay Area 🌉 (@NWSBayArea) March 2, 2023
“Rainfall over the last few months has improved #CA soil moisture and streamflow levels and reservoir levels, while the snow has increased mountain snowpack to much above-normal levels,” reads a tweet from the SF Bay Area of the National Weather Service. From February 21st to February 28th, the U.S. National Drought Monitor shows a drastic change in California ground conditions — showing how nearly the entire state has improved and moved away from certain drought categories.
As we said before: The big news is that entire regions of the state are now drought-free. However, the NWS did write “groundwater levels remain low and may take months to recover.” In the shared infographic, it’s also noted that Newsom’s emergency order around California’s drought enacted in October of 2021 remains intact.
For us humans, California’s stark improvement in drought conditions is astonishingly great news; it’s also a welcomed update for our state’s wildlife, which is among the most biodiverse anywhere in the country
From 2011 to 2017 — a span of time connected with what’s widely considered the worst drought, longest-running drought in the state’s history — an estimated 102 million trees perished, decimating habitats belonging to fauna across California. Birds of prey literally died in order to get a drink. Mountain lions starved to death. 90% of all giant kangaroo rats found in the Carrizo Plain died during this time. Invertebrate life, which is the adhesive that binds together virtually every faunal food web, decreased by as much as 70% in some areas.
Drone footage showing @ucdavis scientists studying juvenile salmon growth in #SacValley #carice fields. Learn more on how researchers, rice growers & conservation groups are teaming up at https://t.co/DCOxPb951M pic.twitter.com/iNzvmI3Mql
— CA Rice Commission (@RiceNews) March 4, 2023
It was a dark and bleak and catastrophic time in CA’s environmental history.
While the State did eventually lift the state of emergency enacted around the aforenoted drought in 2019, California was by no means a drought-free republic. Much of the state’s groundwater supplies remained well below average, and huge swaths of northern and southern California still were scarred by “extreme” drought conditions. Water reservoirs, like Lake Orville, continued to fall, with some reaching historic lows. Because, mind you: California is still in a “megadrought” — one unseen in over a thousand years.
But as conditions are improving (albeit slowly), California’s wildlife is rebounding in tandem.
We’ve already talked about how threatened species of salmon are already returning to historically significant spawning grounds (as well as popping up in areas they’ve never been documented). And this same comeback era fact extends to other marine fauna in freshwater and brackish environments; it’s likely a factor as to why a pair of bald eagles recently nested in Alameda; fish, partially salmon and trout, make up the vast majority of a bald eagle’s diet — and these birds will favor mating and rearing their young in areas where prey is abundant.
Meet the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse! "Salties" are an Endangered Species found only in the salt marshes of the San Francisco Bay Area. They can survive drinking only salt water and they are star aquatic athletes capable of swimming non-stop for several hours! pic.twitter.com/yE5Ad6WlNX
— ASM Conservation (@AsmConservation) March 2, 2023
California’s gripping drought decimated populations of one of the state’s iconoclastic amphibians: the California Red-Legged Frog. It is among the rarest frogs in the county and is endemic only to California, though anecdotal reports of them in Baja, Mexico exist. In order for them to successfully spawn, the species needs deep ponds, streams, and creeks; suffice it to say that this new wetness benefits all the state’s amphibious life — all while bolstering prey scores for the endangered San Francisco garter snake that feeds almost exclusively on frogs, toads, and fish.
More rain is in the forecast for the rest of this weekend and into next week. Let’s hope this streak continues — albeit without the landslides and blackouts and road closures — for the sake of us humans and our other sentient neighbors.
Feature image: Courtesy of iNaturalist