September 20-26, 2006

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News Briefs

By Patricia Lynn Henley

Hot losses

The impact of record-breaking triple-digit temperatures that baked California for two weeks in late July continues to be felt throughout the North Bay and statewide. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently declared an economic disaster in Sonoma and 15 other California counties, making farmers and ranchers in those areas eligible for emergency loans from the federal Farm Services Agency. Residents of 31 neighboring counties, among them Marin and Napa, are also eligible for loans to cover agricultural losses caused by the high temps. "The heat wave really impacted the livestock industry more than anything," says Mike Smith, deputy agricultural commissioner for Sonoma County. "We basically lost production from animals that succumbed to the heat." Smith estimates Sonoma County losses at more than $1.4 million, including $982,064 in lost milk production. Fred Crowder, Marin County's deputy agricultural commissioner, pegs his county's losses at more than $4 million, including $3.5 million in lost milk production. Crowder adds that Marin County is asking state and federal officials to reconsider its status for receiving primary disaster funding. Napa County's losses were negligible, says assistant commissioner Greg Clark, because most of the county's farmland is devoted to wine grapes. Statewide, more than 130 people died from heat-related causes. California's agricultural industry was hard hit, especially in the Central Valley where more than 25,000 cattle perished.

West Nile woes

A 17-year-old Novato girl has the dubious distinction of having contracted Marin County's first human case of West Nile virus. A 58-year-old Petaluma man had that honor in Sonoma County last fall. Both recovered from their flu-like symptoms, but their bouts with this mosquito-borne disease indicate that vigilance is needed. Although there have been two California deaths, other statistics appear upbeat: 197 human cases statewide so far this year compared to 663 in 2005; only 43 California horses infected in 2006, as opposed to 372 last year. "I attribute that to the public being more aware of West Nile," says Chris Canterbury of the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District. Much more significant, Canterbury says, are the figures for "sentinel" chickens monitored statewide. Last year, 438 of these caged fowl contracted West Nile; this year's count is already at 446, with more expected. More than ever, people need to eliminate pools of water where mosquitoes lay their eggs. "We're always asking the public to flip it, dump it, drain it and get rid of any standing water around their property," Canterbury explains. Napa County has had no human cases and found only three birds with West Nile this year, but abatement district director Wesley Maffei says West Nile is still a concern. "Continue to manage the water," Maffei adds. "It's not a one-time deal."

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