Executive Summary for November 9th

For an overview of the latest news on the California drought, we’ve organized the most recent developments in a curated summary, including the most important stories, analysis and data. Our goal is to keep you informed of the day’s most significant events in the field.

Published on Nov. 9, 2015 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Hungry Bears Descend on Rural Town

Black bears suffering from hunger caused by the drought are swarming the town of Three Rivers on the outskirts of Sequoia National Park.

The bears are walking along roads in broad daylight in the town of 2,200 people, climbing onto rooftops to get to scarce acorns in tree branches and combing through garbage.

“Three Rivers is literally crawling with hungry bears driven down from the mountains by drought in search of food to fatten up for winter,” the Associated Press reports.

Although the encounters seem to be down from those experienced last year, at least in some areas, they are unnerving for residents of Three Rivers, who have been kept up at night in their efforts to shoo off the scavenging bears by banging on pots, blasting air horns and even firing warning shots from guns.

The four-year drought has shrunk the crop of berries in the Sierra Nevada while oaks on dry hillsides have produced fewer acorns. This drove the bears downhill into valleys cut by the branches of the Kaweah River that give this settlement its name.

Here, water is relatively plentiful and acorns carpet the ground.

Bears have knocked over several garbage cans and raided grape vines and fruit trees. One bear ripped apart the outer walls of a resident’s pump house and a music studio to get at acorns stored in the siding by a woodpecker.

The bears won’t go back to the mountains to den for the winter if they can’t pack on sufficient pounds in the fall, said David Graber, former chief scientist for the National Park Service for the West Coast and a longtime resident of Three Rivers.

“If they don’t hibernate, they’re going to die,” Graber said. “That’s a rare, uncommon event.”

Drought Eases up – so Says the Media

There were a number of media reports over the weekend that the drought had eased up a little because of last week’s first storm of the season. Don’t be fooled.

These reports were driven by an update from the U.S. Drought Monitor, which recorded a change in drought-affected land area so small that it ranks as undetectable by any casual observer: The amount of California land area experiencing “exceptional” drought, the worst category, shrank by 1.16 percent.

This is like saying a starving man is less hungry because he ate a kernel of corn.

Yet the Los Angeles Times, Reuters, The Desert Sun (Palm Springs) and other media jumped on the “news” as some kind of profound development in the state’s water crisis.

“Thumbs up: Drought Eases a Tad in Parts of California,” The Desert Sun headline proclaimed.

‘“The storms dumped up to 3.5 inches of snow on the parched Sierra Nevada earlier this week,” Reuters reported, deploying an unusually strong verb for such a tiny amount of snow. “The precipitation has put the state ahead of the normal rainfall for the season and nudged a few areas out of the worst drought designation.”

A closer look at the drought report reveals there was no change in the amount of California terrain experiencing drought in some form. For example, 92.27 percent of the state is still ranked in “severe” drought — unchanged from the prior week despite the latest storms.

In their defense, all these reports included cautionary comments from experts that much more precipitation will be needed to break the drought.

But as winter unfolds, it will become more important for the media to consider the effect of such reports on casual news readers. A quick glance at such headlines could easily convince some readers the worst is over, that the need to conserve water has passed. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Top image: In this Friday, Oct. 23, 2015, photo a California black bear roams in Three Rivers, Calif. Tourists hoping to see a bear in Sequoia National Park this fall probably stand a better chance spotting one in this tiny town at the park’s entrance. (Brian Melley, Associated Press)

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