As I drove around Duck Creek last week I was excited about spring migration and this summer’s renovation to Units A and B. In different parts of the area I observed a variety of species keying in on different water conditions as we begin to draw down the area. On higher elevations I saw shorebirds scurrying across exposed mudflats searching for bugs. Along the waterline I saw mud hens pecking through the rotting vegetation. Further out shovelers, green-winged teal and a few pintails clicked and squeaked as they picked and sifted bugs off the top of the shallow water. It was cool to see how the diversity of saturated and flooded ground was being used by different species.
Now I can see you saying, “That is great and all, but why get excited about diversity? Why not focus in on the one or two species that we prefer to hunt and try to maximize that one condition?”
I don’t claim to be a financial guru and I haven’t talked to “Chuck” lately, but an example from money markets might help me clarify my preference for diversity in wetland management. We all know, especially in this day and age, that there is significant variability in the stock market. There are daily ups and downs along with the long-term highs and lows. When investing, it is recommended to have a diversified portfolio to handle the short- and long-term trends. Essentially, it isn’t smart to put all of your eggs in one basket. This allows you to hit the mark somewhere and make some gains even during hard times.
In a similar manner, land managers are influenced by the weather, which as you all know can be quite variable. In the last few weeks we’ve seen 70-degree days followed by 30 degrees with a chance of sleet the next. Much like with money markets, when managing wetlands it is safest to provide a variety of wetland conditions. As we draw down the area we have some control on how much ground is flooded, how much mud is saturated and how much land is dry. However, we don’t have control of the soil temperatures and a big rain could change our plans over night. By managing a diversity of water conditions throughout the year we can roll with the variability of the weather and live with these unexpected events.
Providing multiple water depths benefits multiple species and allows ducks and other waterbirds to distribute themselves across the area and not compete for one location. Managing variable water levels over time provides food, cover and loafing spots throughout the year for these birds as they pass through Duck Creek. Essentially, through managing diverse conditions we can hedge our bets and work with the system and have greater success.
This summer we will be renovating Units A and B. To do this we will be taking down some of the old, steep-sided levees and placing some lower, broader levees in other locations that better match the fall of the land. We will also be creating some deeper scours in other locations. This will help us in a couple of different ways. First of all, we will have better control and flexibility when managing water levels. Secondly, we will be restoring some of the topographic variability, which will allow us to provide a variety of saturated to flooded conditions. Thirdly, we will have to worry less about levee maintenance because of the reduced slopes.
Instead of being either too wet or too dry, we can have a gradient of conditions and be able to hit the mark every year. Along this gradient I have no doubt that the birds will find the right condition that suits them. That is why I get excited and am looking forward to this summer’s work.