Flooding hurts Arkansas wildlife

Flooding hurts eastern Arkansas wildlife but recovery likely LITTLE ROCK (AGFC) – Water, far too much of it, is dominant in eastern Arkansas these days, and it is having an impact on wildlife.

That's the bad news. The good news is that wildlife can come back as shown down through history following disastrous floods.

Even ducks, absent from Arkansas at present, may change their patterns this fall and winter when migration occurs. Turkey nesting has been hit hard. Deer reproduction will be down. Small game will suffer, although squirrels can escape the water by staying in treetops, where buds can provide food.

The Arkansas Farm Bureau has estimated flood damage to agricultural crops will be in the range of $500 million. A secondary effect is the lost crops that mean lost food for wildlife. Deer, ducks, turkeys, rabbits and other wildlife make use of leftover grain and soybeans in fields after harvest. This will be absent in coming months in many areas, particularly in lowlands.

Flood effects in capsule form:

The already stressed turkey population of eastern Arkansas is sure to take a heavy hit. The floods arrived with nesting season. The nests are gone. Turkeys often re-nest if the first attempt is destroyed, but biologists tell us the number of eggs laid on the second attempt is smaller. With the floodwaters likely to be around for weeks still, those second nesting attempts diminish in likelihood.

Adult turkeys can fly out of the way of floods, perhaps resting in trees here and there, but it could be quite a while before they return to home territory. Nesting in dry but strange country isn't likely, biologists say.

Dick Baxter, AGFC Deer Program coordinator, said, "The high flood waters will likely lead to poor fawn recruitment in some areas of eastern Arkansas this year. Deer populations have adapted to deal with adverse weather or habitat conditions, and poor recruitment this year should not have long-term effects on the population. Deer populations are resilient and will respond quickly to favorable habitat and weather conditions.

"The rut in eastern Arkansas is typically the latest in the state; this means that fawns are born later in the Delta than other parts of Arkansas. The gestation period for white-tailed deer is about 200 days, and parturition (birthing) dates range from late May to mid-July in the Delta."

AGFC Waterfowl Coordinator Luke Naylor says the effects for waterfowl likely will be mixed.

"Extensive flooding may negatively impact food production for wintering waterfowl by shifting and shortening the growing season in habitats such as moist-soil wetlands managed by AGFC, the USFWS and private landowners."

Habitat impacts in the extensive acreage of bottomland hardwood wetlands in the state are difficult to predict, Naylor said. "However, if water ceases to flow but remains standing in forested impoundments and temperatures rise, we could see red oak mortality and decreased acorn production, both of which would reduce subsequent resource availability for waterfowl.

"On the other hand, continued flooding of agricultural lands in many areas will lead to later planting and harvest of waterfowl-friendly crops like rice, which in turn could actually increase food availability for waterfowl when they arrive this fall."

Mark Oliver, AGFC chief of fisheries, said, "The flooding may not hurt fish all that much. The spring spawn is over for the most part. The little fry (newly hatched fish) are swimming around, and they have plenty to eat with all the nutrients coming in from the floods."

Oliver said smallmouth bass generally do not do well in flood conditions, but in Arkansas the smallmouth are mostly found in hill country, not in the lowlands and the Mississippi River regions where the flooding is prevalent.

The continued high water probably has more effect on fishermen than on fish. Many access areas and traditional boat-launching sites are unusable. Roads to some lakes and streams may be flooded.

With the Mississippi River water come fish, silt and debris. For many of those oxbow lakes, the effect is recharging them with new fish – game fish and rough fish. Past floods have shown that it's not unusual for these oxbows to wind up with alligator gar, flathead catfish and blue catfish, in addition to buffalo, carp and some sturgeon.