It’s been a wet and wild spring for Minnesota’s wildlife.
And that spells trouble.
Record precipitation in June inundated much of the state, leaving wildlife awash. Many areas have been drenched with an astounding 10 to 15 inches or more of rain, flooding not only farm fields but wetlands, grasslands and other wildlife habitat.
For such critters as deer, the rain has been mostly a nuisance.
But for others, including pheasants, ruffed grouse, wild turkeys and even waterfowl, the deluge has been destructive.
“It’s not been a good spring for any wildlife,’’ said Marrett Grund, Department of Natural Resources wildlife research supervisor.
Here’s a look:
Dry springs are ideal for pheasant reproduction, and this spring has been anything but dry. The timing of heavy rains couldn’t have been worse for ringnecks. Peak hatch is early June, and on June 16 torrential rains pummeled much of the pheasant range, even flooding Interstate 90.
“It probably could not have happened at a more terrible time,’’ said Ken Varland, DNR regional wildlife manager in New Ulm.
Pheasants will renest if their nest or eggs are destroyed, but they won’t if their newly hatched chicks are wiped out by floodwaters. Chicks also have difficulty regulating their temperature; they can succumb if they get wet.
Nicole Davros, DNR pheasant biologist, is cautiously optimistic because there’s some indication the hatch might have been delayed.
“No one was seeing chicks in late May like we would in a typical year,’’ she said. Instead, sightings started around mid-June.
“Now we’re starting to get more and more reports of hens with broods, so that’s good news. I’m keeping my fingers crossed the peak hatch was delayed and the best is yet to come.’’
Wildlife officials — and the state’s 85,000 pheasant hunters — won’t know for sure the impact of the rains until the DNR’s August wildlife roadside survey is completed. And maybe not until the pheasant hunting season arrives in October.
Some ducklings may have been washed away by the monsoons, but the heavy rain’s direct impact on waterfowl likely was minimal, said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist.
But the flooding did affect waterfowl habitat.
“It created some new habitat — that’s certainly a gain,’’ Cordts said.
But other key habitat, including shallow lakes and wetlands, was hurt because the floodwaters allowed carp to spread. Carp are a major problem in many of Minnesota’s shallow lakes, uprooting vegetation and degrading water quality and duck habitat.
Officials had been excited because the cold winter either froze some of those waters completely or reduced oxygen levels enough to kill carp.
“We got a pretty significant winter kill,’’ Varland said. “We saw the impact this spring with remarkably clear water. But with all this rain, the carp are getting right back into these wetlands. That’s really disappointing.’’
Carp swam over flooded land, through culverts and over fish barriers and water-control structures, he said, negating often-expensive efforts to remove them.
Another problem with high water: “A big bounce in water in the summer usually means a bust for wild rice,’’ Cordts said. “That’s a negative.’’
Rice provides habitat and food for various wildlife.
The peak ruffed grouse hatch usually is around June 10.
“Cold, wet weather has a negative effect on nesting success and chick survival,’’ said Charlotte Roy, the DNR’s ruffed grouse specialist. “It’s not going to be favorable for grouse.’
Like pheasants, ruffed grouse will nest again if their eggs or nest are destroyed, but they won’t if the newly hatched chicks succumb to weather.
The DNR will report results of the spring drumming survey this week, but that survey only reflects the drumming adults counted; it doesn’t offer an indication of spring reproduction.
Another ground nester, turkeys face the same problems as pheasants and ruffed grouse: Newly hatched polts, though larger and stronger than other young birds, are susceptible to bad weather.
“Unquestionably there has been an impact, but it’s impossible for us to quantify,’’ said Grund, the DNR’s wildlife research supervisor in Madelia. “These heavy rains not only have an impact on reproduction by flooding nests, but the flooding also eliminates much of the habitat and forces them into more marginal areas that likely increases predation rates.’’
The impact of the wet spring on whitetails should be minimal, officials say. “I don’t see it as a huge factor,’’ said Leslie McInenly, DNR big game program leader. The rain has boosted forage and cover, which is a positive. But the impact on food sources in agricultural areas likely is negative.