Wildlife Responds to California's "Mega-Drought"

Wildlife response to California mega-drought

The historic drought ravaging the Golden State and much of the Southwest is prompting some unexpected visitors in unlikely places. Rattlesnakes, bears, and other wildlife are increasingly turning up in urban landscapes across California, the Guardian reports. Desperate for water, animals and insects become prone to moving beyond their typical habitats, even into urban areas and recreational spaces.

Wildlife displacement can present dangers to both animals and people. There have already been several incidences of rattlesnake bites in the northern California region this year. Tyler Young, owner of Placer Snake Removal, told Sacramento's KCRA-3 that he has received twice as many rattlesnake removal calls this year compared to last.

Other dangers include an uptick in West Nile cases. Songbirds are a carrier species for the virus and have also been sighted more and more frequently in urban areas, raising concerns. The disease-causing West Nile Virus can have serious neurological impacts.

Why This Matters

Droughts in the Western US are becoming more serious and frequent due to rising temperatures brought on by climate change. This year's drought is especially severe, as California saw its driest February in over 150 years and the Hoover Dam in Nevada is experiencing its lowest water levels in history. Climatologist Brian Fuchs told The Verge that "this is currently the most exceptional drought we have ever shown on a map in the western United States."

As these conditions continue, human animal encounters and the consequences of changing habitats could become more serious and more permanent -- which speaks to the unpredictable, and sometimes strange, nature of climate change. Mike Bentley, a pest control expert, told the Guardian that hot, dry temperatures could also force a change in animal behavior: "This can mean rodents nesting in wall voids versus underground burrows and feeding from garbage bags rather than fallen fruits and seeds. Or, ants moving into potted plants to nest and feeding on last night's leftovers."

More Drought Fears

Of course, species migration and the impact on biodiversity and ecosystems are not the only consequences of the drought. Last year's wildfires scorched California worse than ever before. They pose a severe threat again this year, as the lack of rain has turned previously lush areas of the state into a tinderbox. Several parts of California are already on high-alert heading into the high-risk season, but little can be done to prevent these types of disasters in the face of climate change.

PBS: 2021 could be one of the driest years in a millennium, and there's no relief in sight, May 28, 2021.