Last year, Nate Salpeter and his wife
moved their animal sanctuary from California to western New York in the hopes of dodging the regular wildfires that had threatened their safety and the health of the creatures in their care.
But this week, Salpeter once again smelled smoke. Massive wildfires burning in Canada were sending huge plumes of ash across the U.S., forcing air quality warnings, baseball game cancellations and school closures up and down the
For Salpeter, Sweet
and the team at Sweet Farm Foundation, their new animal sanctuary on the west shores of Seneca Lake in Himrod, New York, the problem was all too familiar.
“You can barely see across the lake yesterday, and Anna said ‘I thought we left this behind,'” Salpeter said. “There’s a little bit of PTSD involved from that whole experience.”
For much of Thursday, the air quality in Himrod was classified as “unhealthy” by the U.S. Air Quality Index
. Salpeter and Sweet
founded Sweet Farm in Half Moon Bay in northern California in 2015. But in August 2020, the sanctuary
was threatened by the
CZU Lightning Complex fire, which ravaged San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. In just four hours, a team of about 45
workers and community volunteers evacuated more than 140 animals, including cows, pigs, ducks, goats
and a 37-year old stallion called Sturgis
to two other sanctuaries out of the raging fire’s path.
The fire, which destroyed 1 , 500 properties and consumed 86,000 acres, ultimately spared the farm, but the sanctuary’s team found the experience difficult
nonetheless. Just going through that experience was extremely traumatic, it was stressful for the animals, for the team, and everyone involved, Salpeter told The Times on Thursday.
That close call was a catalyst. After years of wildfires, droughts and other extreme climate conditions, Salpeter and Sweet decided to relocate the animal sanctuary to Himrod, a town in western New York that they determined to be climate
stable and also close to Sweets hometown, Penn Yan.
If it wasnt that [CZU fire] that actually burned down the farm or caused catastrophe, when would the next one happen and would that be the one that actually burns it down? Salpeter said. We wanted to [move] on our own terms, before it was an eleventh
Climate change has influenced other Californians’ migration decisions. Stanford University’s Nina Berlin Rubin and Gabrielle Wong-Parodi found in a recent study of 1
100 California residents that “experiencing negative outcomes during the 2020 wildfire season was associated with an increased likelihood of intending to migrate.” About a third of respondents intended to move in the next
years, and nearly a quarter of those likely to move reported that wildfire and smoke
their decision at least a moderate amount.
In May 2022, after months of planning, paperwork and animal blood tests, the
Sweet Farm team loaded t heir
cows, sheep, geese, pigs, llamas and chickens and the aging Sturgis onto two 18-wheeler trucks to make the 47-hour, nearly 3
000-mile journey to Himrod.
That sense of safety and serenity was disrupted this week when wildfires burning in neighbouring Canada brought a smoky haze across New York state and the rest of the East Coast region of the United States. The East Coast which has largely been spared the smog and bright red sun as a result of wildfires is now getting a taste of harsh conditions that have become all too familiar in California and the West.
A year later, Salpeter says he and Sweet have no regrets. The lake provides them easy access to fresh water, and the region has a wine industry, which is a reminder of their former home. They are no longer under the near-constant threat of wildfires and other extreme climate events.
But this week’s harsh conditions have also provided a reminder.
“No one is immune, no one is completely unaffected by climate change, no matter where you’re located,” Salpeter said.