No, New York Times, Climate Change Is Not Targeting Animal Sanctuaries

Guest essay Brief by Kip Hansen, originally published on WUWT.

Seldom does the NY Times cover any story that I can physically fact-check.  In this case today, the object of the story is “close enough” for me to visit and take photos.

The sad tale is recounted in this piece in the NY Times:

Sanctuaries Can Protect Animals From Abuse, but Not From Climate Change — A growing number of animal refuges are being forced to move in the face of extreme rainfall, droughts and hurricanes caused by the planet’s warming.”

It deals with an animal refuge of the type known (officially) as a Farmed Animal Sanctuary [FAS]:  “Farmed animal sanctuaries (FAS) provide care, shelter and advocacy of farmed animal species such as chickens, cows, goats, fish, horses, pig, turkeys, and sheep.”  The specific FAS is called the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, though it is not in the Catskill Mountains but rather down in the valley closer to the Hudson River.

The claim is: “Climate Change is Driving Animal Sanctuaries to Relocate” – according to  the official title of this article which is found in the meta-data for the webpage as “Climate Change Is Driving Animal Sanctuaries To Relocate – The New York Times” This claim is false in general and false in the specific instance of the Catskill Animal Sanctuary. Let’s see how the author of this NY Times piece makes this yet another “every story is a climate change story.”  First, this article is “narrative journalism”.  Narrative journalism:

  • It looks at intriguing people, human emotions, and real situations. It provides the private story behind the public story.
  • It reaches past the ordinary by blending the reportage of facts with the writing style of fiction.

But, in addition, it is meant to “contain accurate, well-researched information”.

Our NY Times journalist, Hilary Howard,  seems to have understood the first two, but fails on the last requirements of “accurate” and “well-researched”.

Why do I say this? Let’s see what Howard had to say about the reason this animal sanctuary has to move:

CLAIM:  “Increased rainfall …. has finally forced the sanctuary to search for a new home”

The Times says “Climate change has resulted in warmer and wetter weather across New York, where annual precipitation jumped 10 to 20 percent over the past century, according to a state report. The study projects that the largest precipitation increases in coming years will be in New York City, the Catskill Mountains region and the Lower Hudson Valley.”  Similar to the error of applying Global Warming to every locality, the Times author apparently thinks that a state-wide statistic applies everywhere in the state and/or that future predicted weather can cause current-day problems.

This sanctuary property is located in the Glenerie area of  Ulster County, NY, and was purchased in August of 2002.  “We only had a small number of animals, it was August, the grass was lush, I didn’t ask about soil composition.” The Times quotes Kathy Stevens, the 150-acre sanctuary’s founder and executive director, as saying.  Why does she say that last part?  Keep reading, I’ll get to it.

Has Ulster County, NY, thus this sanctuary, see “increased rainfall”?

Here’s the graph:

The little box in the lower right points to 2002.  The property was inspected and purchased in the drought year of 2002, after which local rainfall returned to a more normal range.  There were two very wet years a decade ago, 2011 and 2012.  Otherwise, rainfall amount are variable, but generally constrained to the range of 40 to 60 inches per year.  Now, that a pretty wide range – 20 inches.  At the top end we have a wet year and at the bottom end, a dry year.

So, let’s look at Monthly Rainfall.  Has Ulster County seen very wet months?

I don’t really like illustrations of “difference from normal” but this shows “drier” and “wetter” month by month since 2002, the lifetime of this sanctuary.

There are not many “wettest” months (darkest green) and visible but not obvious is that 2021 had a wet summer (four greens stacked up).

And though 2017-2018 appear in the Total Precipitation graph as a wet year, we don’t see many very wet months that year.

There is one more way to look at this data provided by USAFacts, which attempts to make government produced data available and visible to the general public.

The graphs I have used here are available in interactive form on the USAFacts “Climate in Ulster County, New York” page.

I don’t like using a graph of standard deviations, but that is what is available – they use this “We defined all monthly temperature and precipitation values to be average in comparison to the 20th century average if they fell within two standard deviations of the 20th century average. All values that fell below or above two standard deviations are defined as climatic anomalies”.

So, over the lifetime of this sanctuary, in the latest decade we see four or five anomalously wet months – but not as anomalous as those in the first decade of the sanctuary’s life.  Further, the latest decade has been less variable than the first decade.

VERDICT:   There has not been increased rainfall in Ulster County, NY where this sanctuary is located over the last two decades.

So, you may ask, if there has not been increased rainfall, why are their pastures and fields soggy?

“At the Catskill sanctuary, flooding and constant dampness have resulted in soil erosion and a loss of trees. Animals’ hoofs often sink into saturated ground while members of the sanctuary’s staff undertake flood mitigation efforts, installing culvert pipes and curtain drains, among other tactics, to no avail.” [ NY Times article ]

“Basically that property is in a bowl,” said Jake Wedemeyer, the executive director of the Ulster County Soil and Water Conservation District, a government agency that advises farmers on agricultural practices.

Another problem, Mr. Wedemeyer said, is that the valley’s clay soil retains water and drains poorly.”  [ NY Times article ]

We see in this topographical map from USGS that the Catskill Animal Sanctuary is located between two ridges (of solid rock, by the way) with the only outlet for water being the tiny stream at the south end of the bowl, but the creek is not reliably downhill from the fields and pastures, it has negligible slope and is seasonal.   (I confirmed by physical inspection).

The whole area between the foothills of the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River in this part of the Hudson Valley has so much clay that it is famous for the number of historic brick kilns which used the abundant clay to manufacture bricks which were loaded on barges and floated down the Hudson to build NY City.

When purchasing the property Ms. Stevens remembers when she first bought the Catskill property in 2002. “We only had a small number of animals, it was August, the grass was lush,” she said. “I didn’t ask about soil composition.”” [NY Times article]

In the drought year of 2002, the property looked oh-so-nice with lush grass and dry fields, not boggy-wet fields.  It hadn’t been used to pasture many animals.

VERDICT:  Agricultural land purchased without any regards for soil type, soil composition, and without seeking any expert opinion on what purposes for which the property was suited and without considering the well-known effects of variable rainfall. 

Viewed in the moment, the property looked great – but there was a failure to take into account long-term weather patterns and physical geography.  Previous owners or neighbors could have told them the property was boggy in wet years, as is much of the agricultural land in the valley portion of Ulster County.

CLAIM:   “A growing number of animal refuges are being forced to move in the face of extreme rainfall, droughts and hurricanes caused by the planet’s warming.”

Despite the use of the words “growing number”, the article only cites two instances of animal refuges moving at all, and BOTH moved to New York State’s Finger Lakes region.

Quoting the Times:

Sweet Farm, an animal sanctuary that also grows produce and supports climate-related technology, moved 140 animals from Silicon Valley in California to New York’s Finger Lakes region in 2022 after a close call with a wildfire.”  [I need not point out that wildfires are not climate change, especially in California, which wishes it was back to drier conditions after two very wet years.]

Note that Sweet Farms’ website makes no mention of being forced to relocate due to climate change, wildfire or anything other than simple personal choice of the owners.


Happy Compromise Farm + Sanctuary, which moved from Oregon in 2021.   ….  Trading drought concerns in the Northwest for New York’s extreme rainfall presents its own set of challenges, the owners said. But it was a trade they were willing to make.”

“We do have to deal with an overabundance of water here in New York,” said Eryn Leavens, a founder of Happy Compromise. “But climate change affects every corner of the planet, and you really have to pick and choose your battles.”

The owner’s quote of “extreme rainfall” can not be verified – they are in Tioga County, which has been drier than normal since 2021.

Note that Happy Compromises’s website makes no mention of being forced to relocate due to climate change, drought, or anything not simply personal choice of the two co-owners.

“The exact number of relocations is hard to pinpoint. The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, an accrediting agency, does not track the reasons for such moves. But the nonprofit group did report an increase in sanctuaries strengthening their disaster preparedness plans from 2022 to 2023, said Valerie Taylor, the executive director.

“Sanctuaries which did not previously have to worry about wildfires, severe flooding or extreme heat and cold are now faced with these new challenges,” Ms. Taylor said. Last year, about a third of all sanctuaries seeking accreditation reinforced their disaster plans, a 4 percent increase from the previous year, according to the federation. (Some 186 animal refuges in the United States are accredited by the group.)”

Let’s be clear, there are two animal sanctuaries that are known to have moved, both moved to New York State, neither mentioning climate change as the reason for their moves, not even the one that labels itself as a “Climate Sanctuary”.  According to  Ms. Taylor, of The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuarieswildfires,  floods, heat and cold are uniquely new weather phenomena.

VERDICT:  The claim that “A growing number of animal refuges are being forced to move in the face of extreme rainfall, droughts and hurricanes caused by the planet’s warming.” is not supported by facts presented by the NY Times.

Bottom Lines:

1.  The featured Catskill Animal Sanctuary has found that it made a poor choice in its property purchase in 2002 – failing to inquire about how  long-term weather conditions might affect the land. If the owners had asked the local experts, advice is provided free by various levels of government, they would have known that land would be boggy in wet years.

2.  The reason they have to move is not down to Climate Change – the local climate has not changed.  They must move because of Geography and Geology – both of which they should have studied in school.

3.  It is false that “increasing numbers of animal sanctuaries” have been forced to move because of climate change.  That idea seems to have been entirely invented by the NY Times journalist.

4.  This essay illustrates the ongoing trend, pushed by Climate Crisis News Cabals, to “make every story a climate change story” – even if they have to make things up.

# # # # #

Author’s Comment:

A silly little story, blown out of proportion to sell the specious climate crisis.

I write about it to show something about journalism, the misapplication of, leads readers astray giving them seeming true stories that are not factual.

It is a fact that if the Catskill Animal Sanctuary wants to have many hooved animals, it will have to move.  The property is not suited for that use and never was.    Why?  Geography and Geology. I am sympathetic that these well-meaning people who have worked so hard for 20 years are now realizing that their poor property choice is not “fixable”. I once put just five years into an ambitious project that I finally came to realize was not going to get done, a least by me. Luckily, I realized it before we sunk our life savings into it — and was able to unload at a handy profit.

I admit that I do not understand the whole “animal sanctuary movement” — at all.

Using large area statistical weather trends to explain local phenomena is a bad idea.  National, state and county lines don’t apply to the natural processes that produce weather.

Thanks for reading.

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  1. Well stated, these well meaning people should have done their homework before moving animals who are not endemic to that region! That might have been a clue that this was not a good location for this project! Drainage and seasonal conditions beyond just the what appears in the surface must be considered for the well being of these animals and their natural habitat! Climate didn’t make it worse it was the lack of thorough research and analysis that made this an unsuitable place.


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