Drawdown aims to improve waterfowl habitat at Wisconsin wildlife area

(Wisconsin DNR photo)

PORTAGE, Wis. — Visitors at French Creek Wildlife Area near Portage will likely notice a significant change to the main flowage of the wildlife area as a result of efforts to improve waterfowl habitat.

The habitat improvement project focuses primarily on “puddle” ducks like mallards and teal in the flowage and is set to begin in May. Project partners include Columbia County Land and Water Conservation Department, Ducks Unlimited and local duck hunters.

“The primary management goal for these impoundments is to preserve and enhance wetland habitat types for waterfowl and other wildlife through seasonal water level control,” said Sara Kehrli, DNR wildlife biologist. “This project has received support from local duck hunters and will provide for improved hunting in future years,” said Kehrli.

Impoundment drawdowns help birds and other wildlife in wetlands by revitalizing the flowage, noted Kehrli. These drawdowns can settle soils, anchor floating bog mats to the ground and allow plants like smartweed and bulrushes to quickly cover exposed mudflats and provide great food sources for waterfowl, shorebirds and other wildlife species. The end result should provide more open water areas for waterfowl use which will benefit duck hunting and bird watching in the area.

This habitat project includes both a summer and overwinter drawdown on the 900-acre flowage. In summer 2017, low water levels will allow cattails to anchor to the true bottom of the marsh, and may be treated with herbicide. The area will remain drawn down to allow for a prescribed burn during the winter season, weather permitting.

“Hunters may be wondering why the drawdown is occurring during the waterfowl seasons,” said Kehrli. “Due to overwintering amphibians and reptiles in the mud layer of the marsh, there is not enough time between the opening of duck hunting season and when DNR staff would conduct the burn to conduct a drawdown. With this timeline, we will avoid leaving these amphibians and reptiles exposed to the cold of winter causing them to freeze.”

The last successful drawdown at French Creek Wildlife Area occurred in 2007. Drawdowns are weather dependent, and drought years are ideal for this management strategy.

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