The 3 R's of Earth Day...A Wetland Mantra?

Going Green

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Aquatic Plant Life

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Published on: Apr. 24, 2014

Perhaps you have heard the slogan, “Reuse, Reduce, and Recycle” this week as folks have focused on Earth Day and tried to highlight ways to “go green”. It is kind of catchy, makes sense, and underscores our personal responsibility in taking care of our natural resources. As I took a look at the wetland habitat at Duck Creek this week, I thought of this slogan in a slightly different context.

Shifting Seasons

As spring has progressed we have kept some locations flooded, while other spots have begun to dry out as temperatures increase and we have started to lower the water levels. Currently, on the mud flats in the open marsh you can see partially decomposed stems and leaves beginning to dry out. If you’ve been chasing turkeys in the timber, you can see various degrees of dried out and broken down leaves. In both of these habitats, by wading out through the muck into deeper water, you can begin to see a glaze on the water’s surface. Along with the trees that have budded out in higher, dryer locations, photosynthesis has really ratcheted up under the water as well. The glaze on the water is the result of tremendous bloom of a variety of algae communities.

Now stay with me, I realize algae probably has the curb appeal of….well, algae. It is a pain in the rear trying to fish through and periodically there are stories of dogs dying from swimming through toxic blooms of blue-green algae. I realize algae doesn’t have the best reputation, but hear me out because it does serve a purpose.

Past Management

Let’s think back to last fall when we were able to flood a lot of different habitats ranging from flooded timber with leaf littered floors to the open marsh with aquatic plants and annual seed producing grasses and forbs. The purpose was to make the seeds, acorns, bugs, and other plant parts available for waterfowl to forage on as they migrated through this fall and spring. Although many of the ducks have moved on, the kitchen is still open. With the transition in seasons the menu has changed along with the potential clientele.

Microbial Madness

On a microbial level while these habitats were flooded in the fall and winter the water was leaching nutrients out of all of that dead plant matter. Microbes and bacteria were also chewing away and releasing the nutrients that were once tied up in the rotting plant tissue. With the warmer temperatures algae has been given the green light to turn on and start utilizing these now released nutrients. In the spirit of Earth Day, this example of algae shows us how the duck food, duck waste, and left overs are being reduced, reused, and recycled by another component of the wetland system. This is called nutrient cycling.

Why It’s Important

The bloom of algae provides food for a different suite of critters across the wetland food web. The late migrating Shovelers that are still hanging around, love it and can sift out a decent meal by filtering through the split-pea soup. Those digging in their tackle box and hoping to land the next big lunker should also pay attention. The fat blue-gill, warmouth, crappie and bass that are so fun to catch, wouldn’t get there unless they had abundant food. Algae provides the food base for a wide range of bugs, that ultimately end up fattening up our fish. Additionally, during the larval and juvenile stage many fish species would starve if algae, zooplankton, and other tiny food items were not available.

Peering through the water column right now provides a totally different perspective that may go unseen and unthought-of from above. Within the shallow water green masses and wispy strings of algae crowd the biological broth with shoots and blades of emerald colored plants that are expanding and using the dissolved nutrients. If the habitat stays flooded in portions of the area, this growth will continue, bugs will churn, crawdads and fish will grow, and herons will be fat and happy through the summer. If water levels recede, another cycle of decomposition and nutrient release will begin allowing for more terrestrial plants to take advantage of the resources. Although algae typically doesn’t get a good wrap, it is one component of our wetlands that is vital in how these systems reuse, reduce, and recycle. While we might just celebrate Earth Day once a year, going green and using the available resources wisely is just another typical day in the marsh.

Key Messages: 

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On May 12th, 2014 at 9:31am Keith said:

Mingo also maintains a page on Facebook which they post to regularly.

On May 12th, 2014 at 9:27am Keith said:

The boat ramps will most likely not be finished by Memorial Day. The contractors are making progress, but there are still several more sections of concrete ramp to pour. Each section has to cure for a week or longer before it can be pushed in and the next section tied into it. Rainy weather will further delay this progress, which looks likely this week. I will discuss current project status with the contractor today and post an update of projected completion date afterwards.

On May 12th, 2014 at 9:19am Keith said:

On May 12th, 2014 at 8:34am Anonymous said:

Will the southeast and southwest boat ramps be open by Memorial Day weekend?

On May 10th, 2014 at 8:14pm Anonymous said:

Do you have a web address or email address for Mingo you can share?

On May 10th, 2014 at 8:09am frank said:

We can provide more information, as we typically do, closer to waterfowl season when more people are checking back in.  We will include info on Pool 7.

On May 9th, 2014 at 7:01pm Anonymous said:

Great News!!!! Can you do an article on the "specifics" of hunting pool 7 this year? Access, size of the pool, water levels, which days of the week will we be able to hunt, and can you post an aerial photo or map? Thanks in advance!!!

On May 6th, 2014 at 9:58am Keith said:

The old C blind area north of Pool 2 is not currently constructed adequately to hold water reliably enough to rely on it has a hunting position. Work is planned to improve a retention levee with water control structures and to install a footbridge to access this unit, however, it will not happen this year. Greenbrier Unit work will commence this year and should be complete by this fall. This work is being done by private contractors who are now waiting for conditions to dry up enough to begin construction. The Mingo hunt plan has been approved and Pool 7 will be available to hunt waterfowl this fall, subject to water availability. It is planned to allow up to 25 individuals, 3 days per week and administered through the morning draw at Duck Creek.

On May 5th, 2014 at 7:57pm Roy said:

Are you guys going to get the old c blind in the draw this year? Whats the update/plan for the Greenbrier Unit? Also, was there any finalization on getting the other pool at Mingo into the draw? Thanks, really appreciate the improvements being made and keeping us informed!!

On May 2nd, 2014 at 5:00pm Keith said:

The sign is posted on a footbridge accessing Pool 8 on Mingo NWR which has been damaged beyond repair and is meant that the bridge is not safe to walk on. The bridge is scheduled to be replaced but until it can be, it will remain off limits. Pool 8 can be accessed from several other locations. We will find and post a sign which may more clearly describe the issue. Corn food plots are scheduled to be planted this year. No corn was planted in the wetland units last year due to prolonged wet soil conditions.

On April 29th, 2014 at 8:26pm Anonymous said:

Once again mother nature dumps 6 plus inches of rain on us. Flooded unit a again. I noticed a sign along the wade in shoot that says NO ADMITTANCE. Can you explain why that sign is there? All the corn planted on Duck Creek last year has been totally eaten. I did not see even one kernel left. Will unit a and b receive any corn plots this year?
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