Drought in Wisconsin – Where’s Walker…?

On July 9, Scott Walker declared a “State of Emergency” due to drought conditions in 42 of Wisconsin’s 72 Counties. In his statement, he acknowledges the severity of the situation – citing Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service reporting:

“Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service reports this week that most of the land in these counties is short or very short of soil moisture, and this week’s U.S. Drought Monitor for the first time reported the southern tiers of Wisconsin counties to be in drought.”

While this declaration will make expedited state resources available to farmers and agricultural interests, Walker only referenced the fact that farmers should document and report crop conditions to the US Farm Service Agency (FSA) – stopping short of a federal disaster declaration:

The Governor also encouraged farmers to report crop conditions to their local U.S. Farm Service Agency office.  The FSA compiles this information.  Information gathered would provide the basis for the Governor to request a disaster declaration by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, which could make low‐cost emergency loans and other assistance available to farmers.

Only one day after Walker’s state of emergency declaration, on July 10, the US State Drought Monitor declared the Southern 17% of Wisconsin to be in a state of “severe drought.” In addition, another 13% just north of the Southern tier of severe drought was declared in “moderate drought.” Nearly 31% of Wisconsin is now considered to be in drought conditions.

Today, July 12, two days after the drought declaration, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi wrote a letter to Scott Walker requesting a Federal Disaster Declaration. Parisi highlights the fact that his office has already been receiving reports of financial hardships from area farmers. In addition, he points out that long-term forecasts show no sign of significant rainfall. Dane County Agriculture agencies are already meeting on a weekly basis, and thousands of acres are already considered a loss. In the content and purpose of this letter, Parisi is spot on – showing effective County management in a crisis.

The problem and question are – where is Scott Walker’s state governance in this disaster? While defenders of Walker would argue that he did the right thing with a state of emergency declaration; an argument can be made (and it will be made here) that he is not exercising his duty as Chief Executive effectively during a natural disaster where time is of the essence for farmers.

The Wisconsin Homeland Security manual defines a disaster as:

A severe or prolonged natural or human-caused occurrence that threatens or negatively impacts life, health, property, infrastructure, the environment, the security of this state or a portion of this state, or critical systems, including computer, telecommunications, or agricultural systems.

This current drought falls well into the category of threatening life, health, property, and most certainly agricultural systems.

The key here is information. The US Drought Monitor partners with State Climatologists; who they rely on for timely, localized data on which to base their analysis. One of these partner agencies is the Wisconsin Climatology Office:

The Wisconsin State Climatology Office is affiliated with the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The office manages data for climate monitoring, provides climate information to Wisconsin residents and government agencies, develops “value-added” products for users and impact applications, and conducts applied climate research.

Provides climate information to “government agencies.” When he made his state of emergency declaration, Scott Walker would have had access to information which was to be released the next day showing the severity of the drought – as well as long-term forecasts. That information is available through the State Climatology Office at UW-Madison. The drought conditions reported by the USDM most certainly rise to the level of a disaster – especially based on long-term forecasts. How did Walker miss this?

Did he have the information and fail to understand the severity of the situation? If so, he is incompetent. The letter from Parisi makes clear the situation is well understood at the local level.

Is Walker failing to gather all necessary information to make an informed and responsible governance decision? The past 18 months have shown that listening is not one of Scott Walker’s strengths.

Whatever the reason, or excuse that will be pushed onto the media who will fail to raise this question – this is no time to sit back and let the disaster unfold; only to react when it is too late. Especially in this economic crisis. If you read this, Governor, let us hope you act soon. For once, this writer would applaud decisive action on your part.

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