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. 


Outdoor Chattanooga News And Events

Here are upcoming news and events from Outdoor Chattanooga: Outdoor Chattanooga Featured Event Fireside at Greenway  Oct. 30 Erin Medley and a starry night Outdoor Chattanooga will finish our 2014 Fireside at Greenway Farm series with a special evening of guitar folk and stargazing this Thurs., Oct. 30, 7 ... (click for more)

Governor Haslam Dedicates Trail At Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area

Governor Haslam joined staff from the Tennessee Division of Natural Areas, Tennessee State Parks and the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation last Friday to dedicate a new trail at Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area. “Tennessee has incredible natural areas that offer something for everyone, and this partnership will help protect and preserve these lands for future generations ... (click for more)

Two North Shore Sold To Pennsylvania Real Estate Firm For Almost $24 Million

The Two North Shore commercial development on Manufacturers Road in North Chattanooga has been sold to a Pennsylvania real estate firm for  $23,983,363. Steve Arnsdorff, who developed the successful center from the ground up and has continued to manage it, said the deal closed last week. He said the sale for the property at 319 Manufacturers Road is to Stoltz Real Estate ... (click for more)

Lookout Valley Middle High School Closed Friday Due To Water Main Break

County school officials said late Thursday night that LookoutValley Middle High School will be closed Friday due to a water main break. Officials said, "This is an official message from the Hamilton County Department of Education to the parents, faculty, and staff of Lookout Valley Middle High School.  Please accept our apologies for the lateness of this message. "Due ... (click for more)

Thanks For Publishing The Stokes Photo Book

I pre-ordered the Stokes Photo Book and picked it up Wednesday . The covers and content are very high quality and contain photos you will not see anywhere else.  This book of photos is worth much more than $35.  I have seen many historic photos of my hometown Chattanooga, but this collection is amazing. My favorites are National Cemetery, Confederate Cemetery near ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Saban: ‘Ratings Don’t Matter’

When the first College Football Playoff rankings were released earlier this week, Alabama football coach Nick Saban got it right on the button when he shrugged, “I don't even care, to be honest with you." "To me, none of it matters, What does it matter?” he laughed at the Tide’s No. 6 ranking. “I mean, it only matters where you end up at the end. So what matters to us is how ... (click for more)