Inslee denies drought emergency request
Last updated 7/6/2021 at 11:42am
RITZVILLE — Gov. Jay Inslee is refusing requests to declare a drought emergency in the state.
Two wheat industry officials — Washington Association of Wheat Growers President Ryan Poe and Washington Grain Commission Chairman Mike Carstensen — requested the emergency drought declaration June 15 in a letter to the governor. A drought emergency declaration would give affected farmers access to additional governmental resources. "As the extremely hot temperatures have reminded us, much of Eastern Washington — including our wheat-growing regions — is in the middle of a drought,” Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said July 1 in response to the denial. “This is a huge concern for me and other wheat growers in the area."
Schoesler represents the 9th Legislative District, which includes Adams, Asotin, Franklin, Garfield, Whitman and part of Spokane counties.
The letter pointed out that wheat country is being disproportionately affected by the drought.
“Deepening drought conditions are spreading throughout Washington – particularly in counties known for producing high-quality wheat,” the letter said. “While we have benefited from having hardy varieties to match each region’s growing conditions, the lack of moisture we are experiencing year-to-date will ultimately result in significant quality concerns and a sharp reduction in yield. Complete crop loss is also a looming reality for some dryland growers.
“We implore you to coordinate with the Department of Ecology, and, considering the current conditions, announce a drought declaration in all wheat counties. A drought declaration will open the doors for growers to access critical resources needed during these challenging times of economic hardship.”
Schoesler said the response from the governor's administration was "less than what one would hope."
The letter to Inslee was answered by the administration’s Department of Ecology Director Laura Watson.
In her response, she turned rejected the drought emergency declaration, but provided information on how wheat farmers could seek federal assistance.
"It was disappointing to see that a key official with the Inslee administration was not willing to offer more help from the state at a time when many dryland wheat farmers are going to be devastated due to this terrible drought," Schoesler said, adding U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack recently sent a letter to Inslee in which he designated 14 counties here as natural disaster areas due to the drought.
Those counties are Adams, Asotin, Columbia, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lincoln, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla, Whitman and Yakima.
"I appreciate the USDA for stepping up to help our region in its time of need," Schoesler said. "What’s especially galling to me is that while our governor apparently isn’t willing to go to bat for Washington’s world-renowned wheat industry during what is shaping up to be a true crisis, he’s more than happy to spend time and energy exploiting the recent heat wave for his own campaign needs and political agenda."
Schoesler said he wasn't surprised Inslee capitalized on the record-breaking heat by attempting to connect it to climate change in campaign fundraising letters sent out last week.
“Our state’s governor is turning his back on wheat farmers and a key part of Washington agriculture when wheat crops might be a total loss this year,” Schoessler said. “It’s shameful. The outcome could be disastrous for the many who work in agriculture, and it could have a serious impact on our state’s economy.
“The governor needs to focus more on ag and less on fundraising."