Drought-Related Wildlife Concerns Ease In Southeast, Not In West

Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - by Susan Morse

Along the parched lower Mississippi River, recent January rains are raising water levels – and wildlife managers’ hopes. 

“If we get another 8 to 10 inches by March, we’ll be fine,” said Bill Peterson, manager of Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, a migratory bird refuge whose groundwater levels rise and fall with the elevation of the big river, four miles east. The added rain would raise Wapanocca Lake, a key regional fishery that’s dropped five feet, and cover thirsty hardwood bottomlands where winter waterfowl normally roost. 

Randy Cook, manager of five wildlife refuges in western Tennessee, is also cautiously optimistic that rains will raise the river and the water table. A higher table helps his refuges provide winter habitat for migratory waterfowl. 

But in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Colorado, there’s no end in sight to the record drought that’s shrunken bird habitat and forage, drained waterways and increased wildfires. (In the Midwest, refuge crews fought 80 wildfires last year, nearly double the five-year average of 41 fires per year.) 

As Mississippi River levels dropped in 2012, the threat to commercial shipping south of St. Louis made national news. Less widely reported have been regional wildlife impacts such as changes in bird migration (area counts of ducks, geese and cranes were down sharply this fall) and the drying of thousands of acres of normally wet wildlife habitat. To flood 30 to 40 percent of their usual waterfowl impoundments, West Tennessee refuges spent $16,000 more to pump groundwater than they did in 2011. 

Further north and west, wildlife refuges in Kansas have been particularly hard hit by drought. “Most wetlands on Quivira National Wildlife Refuge were largely dry this fall, reducing habitat for migrating waterfowl and whooping cranes,” says Megan Estep, chief of the division of water resources for the Mountain-Prairie region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Nearly 70 cranes touch down at the refuge – a normal to high count. But instead of staying the usual week or more, most took off within days. 

With Texas and Oklahoma habitat dried up as well, she said, many cranes likely flew on to the Gulf Coast for food and rest. Continued drought stress on the birds’ return flight, she ventures, could affect their ability to reproduce. 

Reduced flow on the Marais de Cygnes River has taxed wildlife at Marais de Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas. Dozens of state-listed mussels were repeatedly stranded in September after rapid draw-downs of the drought-lowered river. Refuge staff rescued the mussels and moved them back, one by one, into the receding water. In the Midwest, low water exposed and stranded large numbers of endangered freshwater mussels in Indiana’s Tippecanoe River; many died. 

Fish kills included 58,000 (largely shovelnose sturgeon) on the Des Moines River in Iowa and thousands along the central and lower Platte River in Nebraska. The summer was so dry that the Platte stopped flowing along a critical habitat reach for terns and plover. 

The U.S. drought outlook for early 2013 calls for drought conditions to improve along the Mississippi River and in the much of the East and Midwest, but persist in the West. 


TFWC Sets 2017-18 Hunting Seasons At May Meeting

DAYTON, Tenn. --- The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission established the state’s 2017-18 hunting and trapping seasons at its May meeting which concluded Wednesday on the campus of Bryan College. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency staff had recommended few changes to the 2017-18 regulations during its season’s preview held at the April meeting. The TFWC voted to ... (click for more)

Reflection Riding Raising Funds For Red Wolf Project

The Red Wolf is the eighth most endangered animal on the planet and seven Red Wolves are at Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center and are part of a nationwide recovery program.  With a lead grant of $3,000 from Patagonia Reflection Riding is launching a Generosity by Indiegogo campaign called The Red Wolf Project to raise  money for enclosure improvement and ... (click for more)

Bryan Johnson, Timothy Gadson, Stuart Greenberg, Wayne Johnson, Kirk Kelly Are Superintendent Finalists

Bryan Johnson of Clarksville, Tn., was the top vote-getter on the opening round of balloting for Hamilton County school superintendent. The chief academic officer for the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System was on the ballot of all nine school board members at a special meeting on Thursday afternoon. Others who made the cut were Timothy Gadson, a Minnesota educator; ... (click for more)

Man Shot In Home Invasion Early Wednesday Morning

A man was shot in a home invasion early Wednesday morning.   Chattanooga Police responded to a person shot on the 6000 block of Arlena Circle at 4:40 a.m. Upon arrival, police located the victim, Edward Greatheart, 41,  who was suffering from a non-life threatening gunshot wound.   Mr. Greatheart was treated on the scene and transported to a local hospital ... (click for more)

Life For Our Ancestors In 1890

May 26-27 is the 1890’s Day Jamboree in Ringgold. I encourage any reader to attend and enjoy that wonderful community. I love having grown up in Northwest Georgia and celebrating our veterans, including both of my grandfathers who served in WWII.  But I also want to describe how the 1890’s were for my ancestors, living here in a singularly turbulent time. Based on, among ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Governor Haslam, Please!

AN OPEN LETTER TO GOV. BILL HASLAM … Greetings to you, my friend. You know with one more year on the course we have sailed during your two terms as the leader of our state you will go down as one of the greatest governors we have ever had. It stands to reason you eye Lamar Alexander’s Senate seat, but whatever you do it will be hard to replicate your service to Tennessee and ... (click for more)