Public land in Delta impacted by river flood

September 16, 2011

Business, Economic Development

Every year, hunters flock to the Delta to take advantage of some of the best public hunting land in the state offered by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks’ wildlife management areas (WMAs) and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

This year, however, hunters are wondering if they should find somewhere else to hunt.

As the deer and turkey hunting seasons approach, many hunters worry that they will not have access to these public lands, will not be able to navigate them and/or will find nothing to shoot once they get there due to this year’s massive Mississippi River flood.

The historic flood has, indeed, impacted public hunting land in the Delta, destroying infrastructure and habitat and taking a yet-to-be-determined toll on the region’s turkey population.

However, considering the magnitude and duration of the flood, the state’s WMAs as well as the federal Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex in the Delta suffered relatively little damage, and most all of the damage is expected be repaired by the opening of the deer and turkey seasons.

While there are questions about the impact on the turkey population, some researchers believe the flood actually boosted the area’s deer herds.

“Hunters should not have any access problems,” said Sabrina Chandler, deputy project leader at the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “Visitors to the Complex shouldn’t notice much difference at all.”

Chad Dacus, assistant director of the Wildlife Bureau at the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, said all the WMAs in the Department’s Delta region “should be wide open” Oct. 1.

Wildlife management areas

Of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks’ 12 WMAs in the Delta, only one suffered significant damage.

The only WMA located between the Mississippi River and the mainline levee system, the damage at the 3,500-acre Shipland WMA near Mayersville reflects the magnitude of the 2011 flood. The Department is still tallying the losses.

Shipland’s facility took six to eight feet of water, and is a total loss. The road system was heavily impacted after being underwater for more than a month.

The flood deposited six-foot sand dunes in the middle of the woods, and Dacus estimated Shipland lost perhaps as much as 30 acres of land.

“It washed away — it’s somewhere south of Vicksburg now,” Dacus said.

Other Delta WMAs that were impacted are Twin Oaks near Rolling Fork and Mahannah near Redwood. Floodwaters at these locations were comparable to the last significant flood in 2008.

But Dacus added, “While the flood was not abnormal, the length of time the land stayed underwater was significant.”

The flood produced some positives. Dacus said once the floodwaters receded, the re-silted land exploded with spring-like growth.

He said the flood could have benefited the deer population. Since there was no levee breach, floodwaters crept in, giving deer time to move to new land. Often this new land was farmers’ fields, and deer fattened on soybeans and other row crops.

Concerns for turkey are high, however. Ground-nesting birds, the flood hit during the brooding season. Dacus said the Department was currently conducting a brood survey to assess the losses. The findings could be in as early as next month, but it could stretch into November.

Dacus said if the losses are found to be significant, the Department might have to add turkey hunting restrictions, probably reducing the turkey season by a few weeks. He added that there were carry-over birds from last year, meaning that there will be turkey hunting on the WMAs this year.

Theodore Roosevelt

National Wildlife Refuge Complex

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s 100,000-plus-acre Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex is made up of seven refuges, six of which permit hunting.

The largest of Roosevelt’s refuges is Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge encompassing 38,697 acres.

At its deepest, the floodwaters covering Panther Swamp reached 25 feet, and heavily damaged the refuge’s road system. Chandler said when the floodwaters receded, it left wash-outs “large enough to lose a truck in.”

At press time, only one access road was in disrepair. Chandler said the refuge was looking for funding for the repairs, but she said the refuge hopes to have all roads restored by Oct. 1.

Because the flood’s impact was not as great at Panther Swamp, Chandler said there are no plans to alter the hunting season regulations for deer or turkey.

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