Drought Has Benefits for Wetlands

By: Megan Johnson Email
By: Megan Johnson Email

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This hot dry summer has an upside and a downside when it comes to wetlands and the migratory birds that use parts of central Nebraska as a stop over in the spring.

"Right now we're walking through an area, a bottom of a wetland, that would typically have water in it," says wildlife biologist Jeff Drahota on a walk through the Funk Waterfowl Production Area.

With this hot weather, Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District officials say areas like the Funk WPA don't have much water in them.

"This area here was kind of dry this spring, we actually had to supplement some of the areas by pumping into these wetlands," says RWB Management District Project Leader Ronnie Sanchez.

Officials say there's little waterfowl production in Nebraska as most of the birds hatch their eggs farther north.

But Sanchez says a dry fall could hurt them when they stop on their way back north next year.

"The fall sets us up for our spring migration as well too, because if we don't see some water coming though the wetlands in the fall, what we'll see in the springtime is they're actually even drier," he says.

But biologists say that a dry wetland can be a blessing for migratory birds as more plants that provide food for them thrive in a dry year.

"Anytime you have drought conditions or the wetlands dry up that exposed mudflat provides the open habitat and seed germination for annuals to occur," says Drahota.

Drahota says a dry year makes it easier for them to implement management practices like grazing, haying, or shredding, and give those annual plants a leg up.

But while dryness means good things for food sources, officials say it won't be until next spring when they'll have a clearer picture of the effect the drought has had.

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