This drought's severity may have taken many Tuolumne County residents by surprise, but it's nothing new for farmers and cattle ranchers.
Agriculture, the county's No. 2 industry behind tourism, has been burdened by drought since the winter of 2012. This year looks to have the worst impact yet, with forage production on rangeland down about 75 percent and farmers looking at severe cutbacks in irrigation water from Tuolumne Utilities District.
"It gets increasingly worse each year," said Tuolumne County Agriculture Commissioner Vicki Helmar. "We've had a drought declaration by the Secretary of Agriculture for three years now."
Helmar said natural grasses that feed cattle herds in the spring and summer aren't growing back each year at their normal rate because of the lack of fall and winter rain.
Exacerbating the problem was last year's Rim Fire, which burned 402-square-miles, mostly in the Stanislaus National Forest. The blaze forced many ranchers to move their cattle earlier than normal from forest grazing allotments in the High Sierra to fall grazing grounds.
For the complete story, see the May 30, 2014, edition of The Union Democrat.