HUMBOLT COUNTY, Calif. (KRON) — As winter weather continues pummeling Humboldt County with precipitation, herds of cattle are left stranded in snow without access to food.

Several feet of deep snow and downed trees blocked local ranchers from reaching their cows, and the ranchers alerted county officials of the dire situation. 

“We’ve had some unprecedented weather over the last two weeks, and we’ve received multiple reports of cattle dying off because ranchers cannot get to their cows due to impassable roadways,” Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said. “These cattle are an economic driver, they’re starving and they’re calving right now. So all those things necessitate some drastic measures.”

Honsal said, “We won’t know until the snow melts how many cattle have died due to these conditions. But I know this for certain, if we don’t act, there’s going to be way more that do die and it will be a catastrophe for our county.”

A herd of cattle is seen on a snowy mountain. (Image courtesy Humboldt County SO)

The Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services put in a request through the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services to utilize helicopters from CAL FIRE and the US Coast Guard to airdrop hay to cattle.

The request was approved, and on March 5, “Operation Hay Drop” began. Crews from CAL FIRE and the Coast Guard loaded up their helicopters and dropped hay into remote mountain fields populated by hungry cattle. 

“This is an atypical type of operation but it shows the resilience and effectiveness of cooperating with various agencies so in total we can better serve the communities that are affected,” said Chief Kurt McCray of the CALFIRE Humboldt-Del Norte Unit.

Operation Hay Drop delivers food for stranded cows. (Image courtesy Humboldt County SO)

Diana Totten, Southern Humboldt-Area Fire Chief said, “We have about 30 ranchers that have reached out to us for assistance. The hay is coming from private sources, paid for by the ranchers.”

With more snow in the forecast, additional support from the California National Guard will arrive Thursday with helicopters and troops to help run the operation, allowing for this assistance to extend to neighboring counties in need as well.

“We are still recovering from an earthquake, the winter storms in December and it’s been raining or snowing for about a month now. So the impact to our whole community has been drastic,” Sheriff Honsal said. “Public safety operations have been going non-stop. Our people are exhausted.”

(Graphic courtesy NWS Sacramento)

Sheriff Honsal says the additional support from state agencies helps lessen the burden on local agencies, as the upcoming rain and snow could result in more mudslides, flooding and additional emergencies throughout the county. 

“We don’t want people to become further victims because of a snow emergency. So if you don’t have to travel, please don’t travel. Please don’t check on things you don’t have to check on. Please don’t visit places where you have no idea what the conditions are,” Sheriff Honsal said. “We urge people to stay home, stay warm, only travel when it’s necessary and look out for each other.”