Idaho’s Most Devastating Natural Disaster Will Make You Gag
Depending on your age or how long you've lived in Idaho, you can probably remember all sorts of natural disasters impacting our state. Looking back, there's one that will absolutely make your skin crawl.
The Big Burn of 1910, which torched three million acres and killed over 85 people, the 7.3 Borah earthquake that killed two and caused over $2.5 million in damage in 1983 and the frigid flooding of the Salmon River after an ice jam in 1984 are three large natural disasters that almost every Idaho can recall from history class or personal experience.
While Mount St. Helens didn't erupt in Idaho, the ash cloud traveled far enough to affect respiratory healthy in Northern Idaho and shut down major highways due to low visibility. The clean-up efforts in Idaho were challenging at best, so it'd be fair to through the volcanic eruption into any conversation about Idaho natural disasters.
However, none of those events were considered the "most devastating" natural disaster in Idaho...at least according to The Active Times. According to their list of the most devastating natural disasters in each state, Idaho's was the "Plague of 1985." In this case the word plague didn't mean the bubonic plague or a mysterious flu-like illness. It meant a grasshopper infestation that could only be compared to the biblical plagues in the book of Exodus.
Idaho wasn't the only western state impacted by the grasshopper epidemic, but it was hit the worst. The relentless insects ate anything they came in contact with: corn, alfalfa, sugar beets, cattle grazing fields, nylon stockings, curtains...
Just how thick were these swarms of grasshoppers? An archived AP Press article explained that just eight grasshoppers discovered in a single square yard of crops is considered a "severe infestation." Idaho farmers told the Chicago Tribune that at one point, they were seeing up to 1,800 grasshoppers per square foot on their crops.
It was nearly impossible for farmers to keep up with spraying pesticides on their own, forcing them into a nearly impossible decision: accept losses due to damaged crops or continue to spend money on pesticides hoping to save enough of their product. In June of 1985, a Magic Valley-based farmer told the Los Angeles Times it would cost him up to $15,000 for a flyover spray. With inflation, that would be the equivalent of $36,000 today.
The federal government ended up spending at least $25 million to help get the infestation under control. Many farmers blamed the government for letting the infestation get out of hand in the first place. Why? Because grasshopper eggs can only hatch in undisturbed land, something the Bureau of Land Management controlled a lot of in Idaho. Eggs laid on farms were destroyed during regular spring plowing.