Drought is cause of concern for the U.P.

By Marty Kovarik Correspondent

Marquette, Mich. — The National Weather Service in Marquette
reports that a combination of above-normal temperatures and a lack
of rain has plunged some of the central and eastern Upper Peninsula
into drought conditions. As of mid-July, portions of Alger, Delta,
Dickinson, Luce, and Menominee counties were experiencing a severe
drought. Moderate drought has occurred throughout parts of Iron and
Marquette counties. River and stream levels are well below
normal.

“From the central U.P. east, we’ve had severe drought conditions
this spring and summer,” said Bryan Mroczka, a National Weather
Service forecaster in Marquette.

The western U.P. has received several rounds of thunderstorms,
giving some areas above-average rainfall in June. However, the
yearly total remains below normal.

“In some areas, the drought is quite severe,” Mroczka said.
“Several places in the east, like Newberry, saw less than a quarter
inch of rain through a large part of July. June was almost as dry
and was the staging ground for this drought.”

Making worse the lack of rain was the lack of rain were
above-normal temperatures through June and July.

“It’s been quite warm. We’ve experienced 3 to 6 degrees above
normal,” Mroczka said. “That’s meteorologically significant.
Because there’s no moisture in the ground and the trees aren’t
putting moisture in the atmosphere, it’s that much harder for it to
rain.”

Brian Adam, a NWS forecaster in Gaylord, said parts of the
northern Lower Peninsula are also experiencing a very warm and dry
summer, especially in the area between Traverse City and
Manistique. According to Adam, Traverse City was 6.8 degrees above
normal in June and so far this year is 7.4 inches below average
rainfall.

“That’s pretty hefty,” Adam said.

This summer’s drought conditions in the U.P. and northern Lower
will have noticeable effects. It’s another thing that influences
overall health and survivability of fish and wildlife populations,
officials said.

The central and eastern U.P., which have experienced some of the
most severe drought-like conditions, have seen the soft mast crop
shrivel during the past few weeks. Berries and other vegetation
started off strong during early summer’s warm temperatures, but
took a big hit when little or no rain came.

“Everything is smaller this summer, even raspberries,” said Rex
Ainslie, a DNR wildlife biologist in Sault Ste. Marie. “And in some
places the wild blueberries have shriveled up right on the
plants.”

The warm temperatures brought on early ripening, but lack of
water and a continued hot spell stopped the growth and dried up the
fruit, according to Ainslie. In addition, it appears in some areas
that hard mast also has been affected by the lack of moisture.

“We don’t have a lot of oaks on the east end, but the acorns
appear to be underdeveloped,” Ainslie said. “The conditions this
summer will have a negative impact on the ability of a lot of
animals to store fat – deer and bear in particular.”

During drought conditions wildlife must work harder to obtain
water. They may have to travel farther and expend more energy to
get that water. For example, because ruffed grouse are receiving
less water from dry berries, they must expend more energy feeding.
In addition, small pools and puddles that regularly provide water
to wildlife are dry this summer. The drought will even affect
woodcock because worms go deeper during dry conditions and woodcock
have more trouble probing the hard ground.

Ainslie said that some insect food sources that feed wildlife
can go dormant during extremely dry periods. These insects are a
high-protein food source needed by grouse chicks and turkey
poults.

Because the drought conditions have impacted the quantity and
quality of food, these stresses could reduce survivability in some
animals. Because a whitetail doe needs water to produce adequate
supplies of milk, fawn survivability during the summer and
throughout the winter could be affected.

Although the bigger lakes still have adequate water and have
seen good waterfowl production, some of the marginal brooding ponds
are drying up, Ainslie said.

“When available habitat shrinks down, ducklings are more
susceptible to all of the factors of mortality including predation,
starvation and disease,” he said. “We are already concerned about
mallard numbers, and this drought is not helping.”

Brian Roell, a DNR wildlife biologist in Marquette, said the
small berry crop may increase bear activity at bird feeders and
trash containers throughout the area. Last year’s extremely
abundant berry crop was blamed for a lack of activity at bear baits
in the central U.P. This year’s drought may have an opposite
effect.

“These hot temperatures don’t bode well for the moose either,”
Roell said. “They require approximately 50 pounds of browse a day,
and because they are spending time in the shade or water getting
cool, they might not be spending the time required to fill
nutritional needs.”

Hot temperatures and lack of water also have anglers and
fisheries biologists somewhat concerned. According to George
Madison, DNR Fisheries Division western Lake Superior district
supervisor, the drought and hot weather have the greatest effect on
the stream trout fishery.

“Some streams are marginal and can’t hold enough oxygen during
the hot weather,” he said. “If they get above 70 degrees they can
become lethal.”

According to Madison, a trout stream can be good habitat
throughout the year but a bad July and August can have a negative
effect. If a stream suffers through an extended period of warm
water and lack of oxygen, it can take two to three years to
recover.

In addition, for years the DNR has successfully managed some
lakes that are less than 20 feet deep for trout. It’s also possible
for these waters to warm up beyond acceptable limits for these more
vulnerable fish.

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