MALIN — At the first sign that one of about 70 of her meat goats was ready to give birth, Ally Crawford rushed into action.
Pulling on a long delivery glove, Ally assessed the goat, which bleated in distress outside the barn as she neared her first delivery. Ally’s husband, Paul Crawford, moved the first-time mama goat to-be into an indoor stall where she could get out of the cold rain on Thursday.
Three baby goats later – one died in the process – mama and babies were well.
“They’re like a hobby, turned into a small business venture,” Paul said.
“It’s kind of something fun for the kids,” he added.
The couple’s farming operation, which could include alfalfa this year, is not a hobby but their entire livelihood.
Despite 121 percent of median snowpack, 101 percent of median precipitation in the Klamath Basin and a 93 percent water allocation for Klamath Project irrigators, uncertainties for some farmers in the Basin remain.
The Crawfords are one example, and they’re considering the longevity of their current livelihood based on the new biological opinion due out as early as Monday.
The biological opinion is a guiding document that Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office uses to ensure the Endangered Species Act is followed, as is required by law.
Along with that, Reclamation is tasked with delivering water to irrigators in the Klamath Project in accordance with this document. The document will also allow Reclamation to issue a concrete water allocation and operations plan for the year.
Paul spoke up about his concerns about the new biological opinion — known to some in the Basin as ‘BiOp’ — at the March 22 meeting hosted by Reclamation, and attended by U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
“In 2019, I plan on planting some permanent crops,” Paul said during the meeting. “With the new biological opinion, how likely am I going to be able to irrigate those crops in the future years?”
“We would like to provide you folks as ag producers all the information we have, ... so that you can get an idea of what the likelihood of your supply would be over some term of years,” said Jeff Nettleton, area manager of the Klamath Basin Area Office of Reclamation, in response.
Paul expressed an interest in taking up Nettleton on the offer for more explanations.
In the meantime, he’s still wondering about the next step for his farm, and he emphasized those concerns with H&N on Thursday at his farm in Malin.
“This uncertain water is going to bankrupt us,” he said, referencing potential long-term outcomes. “It’s going to drive us and our kids right out of the Basin.”
Ally Crawford, amid cleaning goat manure from the barn floor, agreed.
“On a Monday, we can be feeling things are looking good and by Wednesday, something changes,” she said. “We’re literally having to reevaluate our budget. Our whole summer could change in 24 hours.”
“We don’t have a fallback,” she added. “We decided to put our entire lives into this.”
As far as the 2019 water year, Paul believes he and Ally could likely irrigate.
But there are weighty decisions to make in the short-term, including whether to plant alfalfa or sell the land in which their crop would grow.
Paul said the land was dry in 2018 because of minimal to no water until later in the season. So selling it is a viable option.
“It’s kind of hard to turn down an offer when the alternative is (insecure) water,” he said. “If one out of three years we won’t be irrigating, I can’t make that work.”
While there could be enough water in 2019 to irrigate crops, planting permanent crops this year would require taking less precipitous years into consideration.
“2019 might look good, but with this new biological opinion, you have no certainty,” Paul said.
Basin roots drive farming ambitions
Farming, family and community – that’s what holds the couple in the Basin.
But what the Crawfords need is certainty that they can plant and maintain their crops.
The couple both grew up in families with farming backgrounds in the Basin, and now want to raise their young children in this way of life.
Paul pointed out two new kids — Ashley and Aurora — in one of the stalls in their barn.
“These were born at one O’Clock and by two O’Clock had names from the kids,” he said, referencing his young children.
“That sort of lifestyle, that’s what you want. I wanted that for my kids, I want that life.”
Paul grew up in the Basin, with his Dad, Dan Crawford, farming hay, potatoes and grain.
Ally is a 2008 graduate of Mazama High School and Paul is a 2007 graduate of Lost River High School.
Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army and eventually served in Germany. He completed a tour in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010.
He can’t imagine life any different than on the farm.
Since returning to the Basin in 2011, he witnessed the backing of neighbors and local residents who want him and his family to succeed.
But he also feels resistance to the way of life he holds dear.
Paul said he would like to see interests of the farmers and ranchers taken into account for decisions on water, as is the Endangered Species Act and interests of the Klamath Tribes.
“I’m looking for everyone to share the burden,” he said.