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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Drought leaves top Kansas wetlands not so wet

  •      Two of Kansas' premier wetlands are in danger of drying up, and wildlife officials say that could be devastating for waterfowl hunters and wildlife watchers down the road.


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  •      Two of Kansas' premier wetlands are in danger of drying up, and wildlife officials say that could be devastating for waterfowl hunters and wildlife watchers down the road.
         On the flip side, managers at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge said the low-to-nonexistent water levels give them access to areas they usually can't get to when water is plentiful.
         "It's kind of depressing driving around and looking at this," said Karl Grover, Cheyenne Bottoms manager.  "But these dry cycles let us get out and get a lot of work done we couldn't otherwise."
         The Wichita Eagle reported Sunday that wildlife officials believe the conditions of the central Kansas wetlands are probably the worst they've been in about 20 years.
         Cheyenne Bottoms, near Great Bend, has cracks crisscrossing broad expanses of dirt usually covered by water. Only about an acre's worth of stagnant puddles remain.
         At Quivira, about 90 miles northwest of Wichita, winds blow up white salt storms across bone-dry alkali marsh beds.
         One of the area's top features, Big Salt Marsh, is about 80 percent dry, while Little Salt Marsh still has about 30 percent of its water, but it's shallow.
         "We had a fish kill out there, and we could see the wading birds that were feeding (on the carcasses) weren't wading very deep," said David Farmer, a Quivira wildlife refuge specialist. "If we don't get some rain, it will probably dry up within the next month."
         Both wetland areas usually have thousands of acres of shallow water intertwined with lush marsh plants.  That makes them a popular resting place for millions of migrating birds every fall, but that could change if the skies don't open up with precipitation sometime soon.
         "Shorebirds, ducks and geese, they're long-range fliers," said Max Thompson, an ornithologist and birding author from Winfield. "If they don't find what they need here, they'll just keep going until they do find it."
         Wet and dry cycles in Kansas are nothing new, with old-timers remembering how Cheyenne Bottoms used to go dry about two of every five or six years. That historically has helped keep plants like cattails from completely overtaking the marshes, Grover said.
         Biologists said even the fish kills have some benefits.
         Farmer said the primary fish left in the fading waters are common carp, an invasive species he thinks eventually will die off from a lack of oxygen.
         "They're a species that roots around a lot, disturbing the bottom," Farmer said. "Having them out of the water will make it easier for beneficial plants to get started when we enter the next wet cycle."
         The dry soil also has allowed for much-needed maintenance work, with water-control structures being repaired at both wildlife areas.

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