Smith: A water-soaked spring spells trouble for wildlife

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 1, 2014 - 9:20 PM

Deluges are a nuisance for some, destructive to others.

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A fish barrier built to keep carp out of the Big Slough waterfowl production area in Murray County was inundated, allowing carp to bypass it. These carp were stranded on a walkway.

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:

Pheasants

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.

Waterfowl

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.

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