Harvesting the California drought: gold and wood

On the front page last Sunday the LA Times ran a story about how the drought — three years old in California, and now rated "severe" or worse in 100% of the state — had led to an upsurge in gold panning in streams and rivers. Such as the Kern River. 

Researchers said last week that the drought has meant a loss of $1.7 billion. The toll becomes clearer each day, as water vanishes, and long-submerged highways are revealed; as farmland sits fallow and thousands of jobs are erased; as salmon eggs are left exposed to the air and the harsh sun, killing them; as sheep ranchers cull their herds early because they can't make hay to feed them.

But for one small, proud, iconoclastic community ā€” gold prospectors ā€” the drought has been a boon.

It's an excellent story, and reveals subtly over it's not-long course that although prospectors are finding gold as they haven't in decades, perhaps lifetimes, it's still not a living — barely even a hobby. 

Down here in Ojai, the drought is giving homeowners a similar kind of sad bounty — opportunistic beetles (such as the ambrosia) are bringing down drought-stressed oaks that have stood for decades. This may be a sighting of the polyphagous shot beetle, an invasive species from Asia. Plant pathologists in L.A. fear its spread, for as yet we can do absolutely nothing to stop it or the fungus it vectors.  

Though small and sluggish, its appetites are wide and its spread is relentless. It attacks forest trees, city trees and key agricultural trees. It has defied all conventional and chemical weapons. No one seems to have a way to stop it.

Every cloud has a silver lining, they say. Here in Ojai, the silver lining of drought to date is cord wood — I guess. Would rather see all this oak (and all this work) still above us, shading the land. 

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 Look closely and you can see in the background another dead oak…in what in years past has been a stream. For one day this year the stream ran, after our one atmospheric river storm.  

Related articles

All of Calif. in severe drought for 1st time this century
What's exceptional about the current drought – and what isn't
Drought brings gold fever
Facing Drought Together: The Ojai Retreat 3/9/2014

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