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. 


Land Trust For Tennessee And Mountain Goat Trail Alliance Host Sneak-Peek Hike

The Land Trust for Tennessee and the Mountain Goat Trail Alliance are co-hosting  a summer hike to give locals a sneak peek of a soon-to-be protected property that adds 20 miles to the Mountain Goat Trail (MGT) project.  The hike will also celebrate the enhancement of local outdoor recreation, the conservation of our natural wonders and the way of life on the ... (click for more)

Crabtree Farms Offers Fall Gardening Workshop

In response to a growing interest in fall backyard gardening, local non-profit, Crabtree Farms is offering educational opportunities and affordable, healthy plant starts to help Chattanoogans grow their own food this fall.   “While most people are excited to plant their gardens in spring or summer, there is a growing number of people who realize that they can enjoy ... (click for more)

EPB Files With FCC To Expand TV, Phone, Internet Offerings Outside Electric Service Area

 EPB announced Thursday that it has filed a petition to the FCC "in an effort to respond to neighboring communities’ requests for access to the company’s gigabit enabled high-speed Internet service." Officials said, "EPB offers high-speed Internet access, video programming and voice services using a fiber optic communications network that allows the company to deliver these ... (click for more)

Black Creek Developers Say They "Followed The Rules" On $9 Million TIF: To Continue Project

The developers of the Black Creek project at Aetna Mountain said Thursday they "complied precisely by the rules when we applied for and received approval of the TIF district." Doug Stein said the group plans to continue on with the project, which he said earlier would include the creation of a small town on a huge undeveloped tract on the mountain above Black Creek (formerly ... (click for more)

Pickle Ball? - And Response

Collegedale has done some wonderful things for its residents.  The Greenway is a perfect example of money well spent on helping to give her residents the opportunity to improve their lives, at least from a health standpoint. Having taught at Wolftever Creek for a decade plus, I was fortunate to have opportunity to take my classes on walks from time to time.  It provided ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The NCAA’s “Division IV”

Jonathan Jensen and Brian Turner are two very smart guys. Not long ago the two sports researchers at Ohio State authored a story that appeared in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports that focused on the most successful college football teams in the country and, earlier this week, a writer named Ben Cohen broke it down in understandable terms for a fascinating Wall Street ... (click for more)