Drought conditions for Idaho as of May 10, 2022.

Drought. A single word, but one with many faces. Drought in the Sonoran Desert may look very different than drought in New England, the temperate rainforest of Washington state or the coasts of California. It is also more complex than a lack of moisture falling from the sky, although that is always at the root of drought. Drought is also a sneaky devil, sometimes called a, “creeping phenomenon,” because unlike fires and tornadoes, it is often difficult to determine the beginning of a drought from a prolonged dry spell.

Scientifically and politically, drought is a word with a reasonably specific and measurable meaning, although there may be a lot of “art” in some of the measurements and interpretations. There are many components to its definition. For instance, experts not only measure the amount of precipitation during a specific period of time and compare that to years past, they also consider accumulated precipitation, the amount of water in lakes and reservoirs, river and stream volume and soil moisture. Experts at the National Drought Mitigation Center, based at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, consider all these factors, talk to other experts and determine how the combination of factors will influence human activities.

The experts have devised a scale of drought severity. Stage one, referred to as D0, is considered abnormally dry. Impacts include: higher irrigation demand, lower snowpack and possibly reduced tourism. Moderate drought, D1, has impacts including reduced dryland crop yields, declining well and reservoir levels and water shortages with attendant water conservation programs. D2 is severe drought. Impacts include a shortened grazing season because of sparse vegetation, low river levels, reduced hydroelectric power production and curtailment of irrigation water allotments. Extreme drought, D3, means that it is no longer profitable to dryland farm and fields lay fallow, livestock herds may need to be reduced, spring snowpack is very low and fire danger is very high. Exceptional drought, D4, is worst case and may include impacts such as utility rate increases due to severe curtailment of hydroelectric power generation and actual damage to wildlife habitats, stressed trees and all the aforementioned impacts.

The Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources issued an emergency drought declaration on April 28, 2022 for all 34 counties south of the Salmon River.  Currently, 82.5 percent of Idaho is suffering moderate drought, while 49.8 percent is under severe drought conditions and 6.8 percent, including eastern Idaho’s Fremont County, is experiencing extreme drought. With such a declaration, those people with water-rights can file for more flexibility in how the water they receive is used. For instance, their normal water-right may require them to spread the water over their entire farm. Under “extraordinary” conditions, they may be able to re-direct all available water to just a field or two, ensuring a crop at least on part of the farm.

Drought conditions can change, although relief often comes more rapidly than a continued degradation of condition. Here is an example from the US Drought Monitor report ending May 11: “Another round of Pacific storms impacted northern portions of the region with beneficial late-season snowfall observed in the Cascades, Klamath Mountains, Sierra Nevada, ranges of the northern Great Basin, and the central and northern Rockies. In response, improvements were made on the map in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana.”

Let’s hope things continue to improve, but in the meantime, it is prudent for all of us to consider what we can do to better conserve water.


Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho