Jacksonville Daily Progress
CHEROKEE COUNTY —
Much like the Eyes of Texas, it would appear the drought is once again upon us — the drought of 2011, that is.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that adverse drought conditions have prompted them to declare Cherokee and four other Texas counties primary natural disaster areas.
Members of the Cherokee County Commissioners Court did not immediately return messages for comment Thursday. But Precinct 1 Commissioner Kelly Traylor announced on his official Facebook page that members of the court were discussing heat-related issues. The word "drought" was not mentioned, however.
“As of right now, Cherokee County is not under a burn ban,” Commissioner Traylor announced about 1:30 p.m. Thursday. “Rest assured, we are monitoring it hourly. Use caution and only burn if necessary.”
The commissioner added that County Judge Chris Davis, who also could not immediately be reached, ultimately will decide if there will be any burn ban modifications.
Recent — and extremely dismal — weather predictions by the National Weather Service bear witness to the detrimental effect of the heat.
“Drought conditions continue to deteriorate across East Texas and North Louisiana,” the NWS reported in late August. “Extreme drought now in place for portions of East Texas.”
Officials have explained that the U.S. Drought Monitor determined that Cherokee, Smith, Wood, Rusk, and Van Zandt counties have experienced severe droughts for eight weeks or more in a row during the crop year.
Experts anticipate the worst drought ever recorded is on its way to Texas around October.
Stacey Steinbach with the Texas Alliance of Groundwater Districts emphasized the gravity of the situation in an online release.
“We're living history right now,” Steinbach wrote. “That drought from the ‘50s was really bad and this one is either as bad or may eventually exceed it.”
Experts say the drought under question isn't new, or even circa 2013. The Lone Star State actually is being threatened by the residual effects of the 2011 drought — the one Susan Combs, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, said cost the state billions of dollars.
In a report, Combs described the 2011 drought as "the worst single-year Texas drought since record-keeping began."
Remaining 2011 drought damage is increasingly evident in the warm season grass pastures of Texas, explained Dr. Larry Redmon, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension state forage specialist, College Station, in another news release.
“It’s spring, and it’s green out there,” Dr. Redmon stated. “But most of that green is not grass — but weeds. And we have to be very careful with our stocking rates. Only a very few people are using the amount fertilizer they should because prices are so high. Hybrid Bermuda grasses must be fertilized or they start to weaken — and other species (such as weeds) start moving in to take their place.”
In addition to the the group that includes Cherokee, sixteen other counties — including Nacogdoches and Angelina — have been designated as contiguous (sharing a common border or touching) disaster areas.
The USDA's drought classifications were created using what is described as the streamlined Secretarial Disaster Designation process. Under it, producers in any of the primary or contiguous disaster counties are eligible to apply for low interest emergency loans.
The delay in recovering from the 2011 drought is created by cooler weather, cutbacks on fertilizer applications, overstocking — and, of course, the continuing drought, Dr. Redmon said.
As of April 23, the U.S. Drought Monitor listed 92 percent of the state being in one form of drought or another.
Producers can’t really do anything to relieve the situation, Redmon said. But if were able to lower stocking rates and improve soil fertility, this might improve the chances for warm-season grass recovery, experts said.
In regard to the loans mentioned by USDA, eligible parties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for emergency loan assistance. Each loan application will be evaluated on its own merits — with a maximum insured amount of $500,000.