About the Wars on Christmas and Ditchmas

While channel surfing a few evenings ago, I uncharacteristically paused at the Fox News channel, where I learned from the fairly imbalanced Bill O’Reilly that there is a “War on Christmas.”  I learned further that Bill and his colleagues at Fox News  discover and reveal this war to their viewers every year at this time.

To be honest, I don’t know much about the “war on Christmas,” and have not seen the evidence or casualties that Fox News claims they have found.  I’m pretty much on the sidelines when it comes to those who rant, rave and battle to put Christ back in Xmas or X back in Christmas, but that is not to say I don’t love the season.

In fact, it falls within my favorite of seasons – the hunting season – and while others are crowded into the malls searching for presents and waiting in lines, I’m often alone and wandering along the ditches while my dog Gus works his way through their depths.  Simply being out there is gift enough for me, but sometimes I am rewarded with a special gift in the form of a cackling rooster wrapped in brightly colored feathers that represent all the colors of autumn – and then some.

What I have found in my home coverts of Imperial Valley, is an all-out war by the superior force of the Imperial Irrigation District on the irrigation drainage ditches where I hunt.  The IID is waging this war with the most advanced of mechanical and chemical weapons. 

Yesterday, I felt like an embedded reporter on the front as I watched the battles unfold before me.  Ditches that once provided safe homes for a wide variety of residents were in the process of being rendered a wasteland.  In the morning, I watched as a tank truck with a long boom and nozzle sprayed herbicides on both banks of a large ditch, poisoning all of the plant life that is necessary for habitation by animal life.

In the afternoon, I stood by another ditch as a piece of equipment larger than a tank used an articulating arm and bucket to scrape clean, deepen and steepen the sides of an embankment, again with the intent of removing every bit of vegetation and along with it the homes of burrowing owls.

Whether sprayed with poison or scraped up in a bucket, the war on vegetation leaves a large refugee population with nowhere to go, and I’m not just talking with self-interest about the pheasants I love.  I’m talking about all manner of animal life that uses these ditches for their homes, from coyotes to raccoons and redwing black birds to the rare little black rails that will cease to exist.

When I did not get a return call from my inquiry to the IID, I asked three prominent farmers why so much money and effort is being spent to clear out the ditches and got three answers.

The first farmer explained that the fields are tiled and many of the ditches have silted in to a point that dredging is required to improve drainage.  That would seem to make sense as a periodic maintenance function after years of silt build-up.

The second farmer said he was told the ditches were being cleared to increase drain water runoff to the shrinking Salton Sea, but noted that the destabilized banks are instead now increasing siltation loading into the Sea.  My own observations support his comment regarding increased sediment now included in the drain water and flowing to the Salton Sea.

The third farmer said there is no good reason for it that he can see, but figured the companies that are dredging and spraying poison in the ditches are connected to IID officials and “are making some pretty good money.”  I’d prefer to believe this is not the case.

When I brought my concern about habitat loss to a California Department of Fish and Game official he seemed unconcerned, explaining, “a lot of things can be done in the name of agriculture.”  I will check with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but fear the same explanation and deference to farming.  I’ll leave another call with the IID.

I’ve not seen evidence of a “War on Christmas,” but like Bill-O, I’ll lament, rail against and name a war that maybe only I can see.  I think I’ll call it the “War on Ditchmas.”

There is plenty of evidence for anyone to see.


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