FARMS ON THIN ICE
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1998:
PORTLAND––First came the ice, and then
came the government.
A warming trend possibly resulting
from either the El Nino effect off the Pacific
coast or global warming in general ironically
froze much of the northeast in January,
killing thousands of animals. Between the
disaster and regulatory changes soon to take
effect, animal agriculture might never be the
same in southern Quebec, eastern Ontario,
upstate New York, and upper New England.
The crisis began early on January 7
when a heavy snow storm changed to rain.
Freezing as soon as it hit the ground, trees,
or power lines, the rain continued for two
weeks, melting the winter snow cap just
enough for it to reform as a seal of ice.
Electricity failed throughout the region. At
least 10% of the total Canadian population
suffered power blackouts during the next four
days. Some sources reported that more overburdened
trees fell than were killed by the
1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, Washington.
Among the losses were half or more of the
sugar maples, including up to 70% in
Quebec’s Eastern Townships, where ancient
stands became visibly brittle through effects
of acid rain as long as 20 years ago.
Transportation was paralyzed by
slippery roads and lack of electricity to run
gasoline pumps. Also because of inability to
run pumps, water too was desperately scarce.
About 36,000 farms were affected,
accounting for up to a third of Canadian dairy
production and 20% of Canadian hogs.
An estimated 140,000 chickens and
8,000 hogs froze to death or died of dehydration
early in the crisis. Agriculture Canada
called the losses light, however, because
more than 22 million chickens and four million
pigs are kept in the region. Factory-style
poultry and hog barns are usually built with
backup diesel generators pre-installed.
Dairy cattle usually survived the ice
storms, but many died, especially on smaller
farms, during the dyas and sometimes weeks
without electricity that followed.
Dairy Farmers of Ontario spokesperson
Bill Mitchell told Canadian Press that the
power failures hurt more than 2,000 dairy
farms and farmers in Ontario alone, including
Douglas Rutherford, 76, of Vankleek Hill,
who died of a heart attack on January 13 after
a week of trying to save his cows by melting
snow for them to drink from a wheelbarrow.
Reported Ken Gray of The Ottawa
C i t i z e n, “Lacking water, Mr. Rutherford’s
cows would not eat. As well, his automated
manure removal system was useless without
electricity. People who visited Rutherford’s
barn after his death found thin, thirsty cows
with enormous piles of frozen excrement
behind them. So dirty were the stalls that the
cattle would not lie down in them.”
Veterinarians and public officials
told Gray that many other farmers were “ready
to hit the wall, stretching the line in terms of
wellness” from lack of equipment and help.
“Short-term, it’s meant dumped
milk and lost income,” Mitchell said, estimating
that as much as $6 million worth of milk
was dumped because it couldn’t be properly
cooled. “Long-term, it’s going to mean lower
production,” Mitchell predicted, since without
electricity to run milking machines, farmers
couldn’t milk cows enough to keep them
from going dry––or from suffering mastitis.
Even short-term, eastern Ontario
milk production was down 15%.
Another several thousand dairy
farmers were affected in Quebec, along with
1,800 in upstate New York, perhaps 1,500 in
Vermont, and several hundred each in New
Hampshire and Maine.
Each dairy farmer in trouble meant
50 to 100 suffering cattle. In Maine the crisis
was compounded by a hay shortage resulting
from adverse weather last summer.
Like their poultry or hog-rearing
counterparts, most dairy farmers in the iced
region have backup generators, but they tend
to be much smaller, tractor-driven, can cost
$100 a day to run, and are not built for continuous
use over prolonged time. Further, gasoline
was also scarce––and even if a farmer
realized the need to drive 60 miles or more to
get gas before running too short to do it, paying
for it posed an additional problem: ATM
machines, cash registers, and credit card verification
systems weren’t working either.
The Canadian federal government
has already been cutting dairy subsidies, to
bring Canadian milk pricing into compliance
with the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Even before the cuts, 60% of the dairy
farms active in Quebec 20 years ago have gone
out of business. The ice storms merely gave
some failing operations the chance to collect
insurance payouts instead of auction proceeds.
New York and New England dairy
farmers tended to get regular electricity back
just in time for radio and TV farm reports to
bring them similar news. In effect since 1937,
the U.S. milk pricing system is to be totally
reconfigured, Agriculture Secretary Daniel
Glickman announced on January 23––and the
change is expected to hit the northeast hardest,
where 40% of the dairy farms in New England
as of 1985 and 25% of those in New York
have already failed. The present 31 milk pricing
regions are to be consolidated into just 11
during the next two years, and the pricing will
no longer be based on the distance of each
farm from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Farmers
will vote on the final form of the restructuring,
but may have limited influence due to a 1996
Congressional mandate for the USDA to phase
out milk price supports, together with a
November 1997 verdict by U.S. District Judge
David Doty, of Minneapolis, that the current
pricing structure is illegal. The 8th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals on February 12
delayed enforcement of the Doty verdict until
it can rule on a USDA appeal.
The ice storms left more than three
million people without power for several days.
Two weeks later, power still hadn’t been
restored to 210,000 homes and businesses in
Quebec, 30,000 in Ontario, 39,900 in New
York, and 17,600 in Maine. Figures weren’t
available from Vermont and New Hampshire.
Many other homes and businesses had only
sporadic electricity through the end of January.
People dependent upon electric heat were
often forced into public shelters. That produced
the usual post-disaster pet care crisis––
exacerbated in the South Shore area, across
the St. Lawrence River from Montreal,
because the SPCA de Mont Regie was without
power into early February and also lacked regular
telephone service. Director Linda Robertson
kept the SPCA open with aid of a cellular
telephone and a generator provided by the Pet
Savers Foundation, a subsidiary of the North
Shore Animal League.
Other relief agencies found little way
to help. Generators were so scarce that one
Maine farmer reportedly drove across both
New Hampshire and Vermont to get one from
someone who was selling them out of a truck
in Swanton, Vermont, near the junction of
Quebec, Vermont, and New York.
The American Humane Association
loaned a generator to a small shelter in
Harrison, Maine, said AHA disaster relief
coordinator Nick Gilman. Terri Crisp of
United Animal Nations said she had been
working with animal rescuers in Vermont to
develop contingency plans for the aftermath of
a nuclear power plant disaster, but they had
never even discussed what to do about ice.
The 11-year-old Maine activist
group Voice for Animals had formed a disaster
evacuation committee under Ken Ward, which
was to begin planning in late January. Instead,
VFA found itself handling the real thing.
“It was our goal to have an evacuation
procedure for all animals,” VFA founder
and president Caryl McIntire told A N I M A L
PEOPLE, “i.e. companion animals, trapped
and injured wildlife, farm animals, zoo animals,
and lab animals, but we were only able
to address the needs of companion animals.
Kris McAllister pulled it all together by allowing
us to use her Little Jungle pet shop for a
shelter. We provided sanctuary to over 200
animals” in the Norway/Oxford Hills region.
Among the animals, McAllister told
Joshua L. Weinstein of the Portland Press
H e r a l d, were more than 50 cats, 75 birds,
three rabbits, five lizards, two snakes, a
hedgehog, a chinchilla, and “a whole lot of
stressed-out dogs. They miss the familiar
noises that go on when there’s power.”
Elaborated Windham animal behaviorist
Carl Russell, “It was more a problem for
many of the dogs to remain home with people
who had no electricity. They no longer had
normal schedules, or the house was dark all
the time. It’s not unusual for them to hide in a
corner,” but in temporary shelters with other
animals, they had something other than just
disruptions to their homes to think about.
Michael Lake of the Port Grooming
and Pet Care Center in South Portland reportedly
housed about 20 animals free of charge
for displaced humans, while the Marlee
Animal Shelter and Kennels took in about a
dozen, referred by the York County
Emergency Management Agency.
John Beward of Animal Antics in
South Portland boarded about 25 birds and
reptiles, he said, along with countless fish.
“We just tell people to bring ‘em in,” Beward
said. “If you lose your electricity, you lose
your oxygen flow. If you lose your oxygen
flow, you lose your fish.”
Zoo staff at Granby, Quebec, kept
flamingos with elephants, to be warmed by
body heat, and ushered parrots into the reptile
house, to perch above snakes in one of the few
parts of the zoo with a generator.
Falling trees crushed a bald eagle
aviary and damaged a bear exhibit at the city
zoo in Watertown, New York, but the animals
were unhurt. Keepers exiled the reptile
collection to a generator-heated private home.
Members of the 31st Brigade of the
Canadian Armed Services and Ontario
Provincial Police helped Saunders Country
Creatures owners Gary and Carla Saunders to
exercise emus and llamas, confined indoors
because of storm-damaged fences.
Maine Department of Inland
Fisheries and Wildlife director Ken Elowe and
staff biologist Phil Bozenhard told Roberta
Scruggs of the Press Herald that most wildlife
would fare relatively well. Small songbirds’
natural food sources might be totally iced over,
and wild turkeys might be forced toward barns
to pick over fresh manure piles, they said, but
rabbits, mice, otters, and beavers could either
hole up and conserve calories by using stockpiled
food, or gnaw through ice to forage.
However, if the mice mostly holed
up, Elowe said, mouse predators such as
martens, weasels, and foxes “are going to
have a real tough time.”
Coyotes turned to deer, whose
mobility was hurt by ice crusts over the snow.
Still, deer generally benefited, Maine state
deer specialist Gerry Lavigne said, as the ice
brought “literally millions of pounds of deer
food falling out of the trees. All the cedar
boughs that fell will be available as deer food.”
Moose, less confined by ice crusts,
also enjoyed the midwinter cedar feast. Bears
remained in hibernation. Bobcats, light on
their oversized feet, were able to run as usual
right over the crusts.
“I think the wild animals were much
better able to cope,” Bozenhard said, “than if
it had happened at the end of February or the
middle of March,” with food supplies depleted
and animals’ coats thinning for spring.
City wildlife, dependent on human
handouts, may have had a harder time. Urban
Animal Advocates executive director Harriet
Schleifer reported that in Montreal, freezing
people “refused to leave their homes because
they said, ‘Who will feed the raccoons?’”
Urban Animal Advocates was
among several Montreal-area humane organizations
that temporarily housed pets for people
whom the cold forced into public shelters or
the homes of friends and relatives––but
Schleifer herself was without power for days,
and moved a dozen of the 20 animals at her
home to her mother’s house.
Kersti Sunne Biro of Montreal
relayed via Internet contact Carol Mouche that
the often fed wildlife of Mount Royal ran
toward the Friends of Mount Royal tree damage
assessment team, instead of away.
But some of the raccoons of
Strathcona Park, Ontario, didn’t wait on
human help, according to Christine Brousseau
of the Kingston Whig-Standard. Instead they
used trees that had fallen on temporarily vacated
houses as access ramps to kitchens, and
helped themselves to groceries.
Nuisance wildlife complaints reportedly
escalated in Massachusetts, Connecticut,
and Rhode Island during the ice storms, as the
unseasonable rain stayed warm to the south,
convincing raccoons, bats, skunks, and other
small mammals that spring had come early.
The reappearance of wildlife seldom seen in
midwinter caused health health officials in
Rhode Island and New Hampshire to warn on
January 18 that while the raccoon rabies pandemic
afflicting southern New England since
1991 has subsided, rabies outbreaks among
skunks and foxes are up.