The crud in our midst; almonds rock; schools going broke

Sickness season
If you’ve been feeling cruddy in recent days, you’re not alone. A veritable swarm of nasty bugs has arrived in the North State, and thousands of people are getting stung. Influenza (did you get your shot?), upper respiratory infections (also known as chest colds) and a Novovirus-like bug (which causes your stomach to turn flips and bowels to churn) have all increased locally, the Butte County Health Department reports.

If you’re lucky enough to have avoided the flu even though you didn’t get a shot, you can still get one and should do so, the department states. As for colds, the big problem is that they sometimes turn into bronchitis and even pneumonia, so rest and drink lots of fluids. And wash your hands often so you don’t infect others.

The Novovirus is nasty but short-lived, fortunately, just a day or two. You’ll feel like dying, but you won’t. Go to bed and keep a pan close by. And take heart: The sickness season is almost over.

Almonds go nuts
Just as the North State’s almond orchards are about to burst into bloom, the state Almond Board of California has announced that last year’s crop was the largest ever, an astonishing 1.092 billion pounds. That was 27 percent higher than the year before.

The prices farmers are getting aren’t bad either. In 2005 it was $3.08 per pound shelled, the highest ever, and that figure is not expected to change much. The demand for California almonds continues to grow, as does the amount of acreage planted in almonds. In 1986 it was 416,000 acres, but 20 years later, in 2006, it had increased to 580,000 acres—with the USDA expecting it will increase to more than 700,000 acres by 2010.

Beekeepers are also cashing in—if their bees haven’t died off, that is. A strain of exotic mites that feed on bee larvae and infect mature bees’ respiratory tracts has decimated hives in recent years, and more recently a mysterious new condition, “colony collapse disorder,” has appeared. As the name implies, it causes entire colonies suddenly to die off.

The result of this shortage of bees, high almond prices and increasing number of almond trees that need fertilizing is that beekeepers from all over the country are pouring into California, where they can get as much as $140 a hive. A recent report in the Sacramento Bee profiled one Montana beekeeper who expected to earn $520,000 in one month.

Schools in crisis
Northeast California is timber country, and much of the forested land is owned by the federal government. Historically the feds have given counties and local school districts a healthy percentage of timber revenues to make up for the fact the lands generate no tax revenues. But with timber sales way down, the money is drying up, and counties and school districts are feeling the pinch.

Siskiyou County, for example, is looking at a 91 percent loss of school funding, reports local Rep. Wally Herger (pictured). Herger wants folks to know he’s working hard to get the Secure Rural Schools Program reauthorized. This is a special program Congress set up several years ago but so far has failed to extend.

The funds are “not designed to be a handout,” he recently said in a speech on the House floor, but rather are “an obligation. They are part of a compact between the federal government and the people of rural America in recognition of the difficulties created by large federal ownership.”