About 93% of the West is in some sort of drought level this week, and a strange impact of this harmful dry state is the outbreak of the shrimp population. The locusts have devoured so much vegetation that many ranchers fear the pastures could be stripped.
A shrimp risk map from the U.S. Department of Agriculture 2021 shows that each square yard of land contains at least 15 shrimp in parts of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, and Nebraska.

“Climate change is a concern for all of us, and when we see extreme events such as a very bad drought, we see an increase in the natural phenomenon such as locust outbreaks,” said Sharon Selvaggio, a former Service biologist. of U.S. Fish and Wildlife “Very disturbing summer.”

Grasshoppers, which thrive in hot, dry weather, have removed tree leaves and are competing with livestock for food – and bugs are gaining ground. Runners are selling livestock “because of poor forage conditions and lack of food,” according to the latest U.S. drought monitor.

Federal agriculture officials say they saw the outbreak coming after a 2020 study that revealed a large concentration of shrimp grown in the West.

“Uncontrolled infections can cause significant economic losses for US livestock producers by reducing forage available on pastures and therefore forcing producers to buy additional feed or sell their livestock at reduced prices,” the USDA said in a statement last year, announcing a locust suppression program.

To mitigate further economic impacts driven by the drought, the agency has launched a campaign to kill locusts – the largest since the last Montana outbreak in the 1980s.

Agriculture officials plan to air-spray more than 2.6 million acres of Montana pasture with insecticides in an effort to kill locust populations. This is an area larger than the two states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

It is not the right approach, said Selvaggio, now a pesticide program specialist for the Xerces Society, a nonprofit conservation group that protects insect habitats, adding that it will be ineffective in the long run.

“The problem with insecticide treatments is that it can actually exacerbate shrimp outbreaks in the future by harming natural enemies or shrimp competitors which, under natural conditions, serve to limit pest shrimp,” Selvaggio said.

A 2021 environmental assessment on insecticide spraying in Montana reported no significant impacts of widespread insecticide treatment. The Xerces Society and other environmental groups again pushed the assessment by pointing to a “lack of specificity and clarity” in the report.

The USDA says it will only be sprayed in low concentrations to kill shrimp nymphs, as adult shrimp require larger amounts of insecticides.

Historic drought of the West in 3 maps

And while shrimp tend to appear during particularly hot and dry years, environmentalists say their massive appearance depends on many mixed factors, including a changing climate.

Birds, for example, prey on shrimp. But the population of pasture bird species is declining, disrupting the natural cycle of the pasture ecosystem. Vegetation cover, adds Selvaggio, has also been declining, in part due to the way grazing is carried out, which in turn accelerates locust development.

“We have to think of it as a system, not just the symptom of the problem,” she said. “Grasshoppers are symptoms of an ecosystem that lacks balance. We need to look at the role of vegetation cover and diversity.”

Selvaggio compares shrimp concern to fire, noting that aggressive fire suppression practices in the West never worked to eliminate long-term danger. Spraying insecticides to remove pasture from shrimp, she says, will have the same result.

“We must embrace a management approach that mimics the natural disturbance regime that is considered a better way to make forest and fire resilient,” Selvaggio said. “We need a similar approach to grazing management in pastures.”

U.S. agricultural officials are launching their largest campaign in decades to kill shrimp in western states amid an outbreak of voracious insects.
A recent assessment of the climate of the largest Yellowstone area, which is part of the region with its dense locust population, has warned of significant changes, such as outbreaks of invasive species in the region as the planet warms.

This year’s drought and heat waves have been record-breaking – a clear signal that climate change is already affecting all aspects of life. And because of these extreme weather changes, Selvaggio says the way land and ecosystems are managed matters.

“Climate change may bring us more shrimp in the future in increasing frequency, duration or severity,” she said. “We need those long-term solutions to address the locust for a long time because we know we may face more of this in the future if we do not take it really seriously.