Drought continues, officials hope for rain

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 1, 2002


HAHNVILLE – It seems like forever since the River Parishes has had a good, soaking rain. In fact, the area is now considered under a mild drought, according to the National Weather Service.

According to George Guedry of the St. Charles Parish Emergency Preparedness Department, the area has only gotten six-tenths of an inch since mid-April.

The effects on this drought are also running into areas many may not suspect. Certainly, lawns and gardens are drying up, but there are much more widespread effects throughout the area.

Take alligators, for instance.

Kenny Schmill of Luling, for instance, who collects stray nuisance alligators in St. Charles Parish, and has done this for 30 years.

“This is a big deal,” Schmill said of the drought, and added as the marshes’ water level drops, animals move toward more habitated areas in search of food and water.

As the nutria move in, so go the alligators, and the gator-wrangler has a busy time of it. “I just picked up a couple at James Business Park, a 10-footer and a seven-footer.”

He began this service in 1972 while a deputy with the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office and performed that service for seven years, picking up an average of 15 calls per year.

By 1980, several south Louisiana parishes had designated nuisance-alligator wranglers, and Schmill continued with the service, now picking up an average of 30 calls per year.

“One year, I had 168 calls, back in 1993,” Schmill said. “Now, I average more than 100 calls a year.”

In all that 30 years, Schmill said he has only been bitten twice, once in 1992 at a farm, and the second time little more than a week ago at Monsanto. It is no problem, as he carries a bottle of bleach with him, just in case, which will kill any possible infection.

Of course, once the rain does return, “They’ll be coming out again,” Schmill said. “The thunder will make them move.”

Take cattle, for instance.

“The cattlemen are hurting big time,” St. Charles County Agent David Pichon said of the drought’s effects. “They should be cutting hay by this time. Sooner or later, you’ll see it in the price of beef.”

Gerald “Wayne” Mahan Jr. of Des Allemands, president of the Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association, commented, “If we don’t get some rain soon, we’ll have to start culling.”

This means he’ll have to start sending the cattle without calves to slaughter, where otherwise he would feed and keep them for breeding.

The little sprinkle of rain the area got on May 17, Mahan said, “was so little you couldn’t see it. The grass is all dead.”

Mahan, whose day job is at Cytec Industries in Waggaman, has 180 acres of pasture for his cattle, with 75 calves. His outlook, along with every other cattleman in the area, is bleak.

“The extended weather forecast is nothing. We used to make up to 300 bales of hay a year. We had 246 bales last year. Now, all the good grass is dying,” Mahan said.

Buying hay for feeding his cattle is also an expensive proposition. He’s already bought 150 round bales at $15 each and 1,000 bales at $2 each, trying to save his herd.

“It’s going to be a really tough year,” Mahan continued. Beef prices were already low after 9-11, and haven’t really recovered.

Meanwhile, the 24-member Cattlemen’s Association will meet Thursday in Luling to discuss their options.

And the skies are still blue and clear, with hardly a cloud in sight.