The good and bad that comes with a wet spring in Pennsylvania

Ground-nesting birds such as turkeys and grouse can lose a nest to flooding. Chicks that are too young to access trees may drown, or also succumb to diseases caused by too much rain. (Photo by Steve Piatt)

In the middle of the last week of May, I sat at home as a late-afternoon thunderstorm approached. It started mildly, with little wind and only rainfall I would term “easygoing.” And although the TV was showing strong storms throughout the area, I assumed my locale was going to miss the bad stuff.

Within a minute or so after my believing my home was spared, the huge silver maple sitting in my front yard began to sway wildly. Same with trees across the street. A roar of wind came rushing through. Rain as heavy as I’ve ever witnessed blew through the air parallel to the ground. A limb on the maple broke, leaves and small branches flew like torn sails in an ocean storm.

It was a downburst, and although the enraged wind was over quickly, the pounding of heavy rain continued. When the storm finally passed the damage was widespread. Trees down everywhere. Small creeks ran as angry rivers. Power outages were extensive.

I thought of wildlife and fish, and what this storm meant for them.

Heavy snowfall is usually foremost in peoples thoughts when they consider weather and how wildlife may be distressed by episodes of strong storms. In truth, powerful spring outbursts can cause much more harm to wildlife populations than any winter blizzard.

Fawns only a few days old up to a couple of weeks are susceptible to drowning – depending where they hide – with heavy outbursts of rain. Repeated episodes of heavy rain can also bring on diseases such as pneumonia, guaranteeing their demise.

Ground-nesting birds such as turkeys and grouse can lose a nest to flooding. Chicks that are too young to access trees may drown, or also succumb to diseases caused by too much rain.

Waterfowl that nests near creeks and rivers may have an entire batch of eggs washed away with flooded flows. They may nest again, but they may not, too, losing a possible clutch of that year’s young.

Food sources will suffer also with heavy storms. Spring green-up is important to wildlife, providing spots to secure the energy they need that time of year. Does are especially in need of good food sources in spring. March and April are when they need plenty of nourishment for fetal development of fawns, and they need even more energy to produce enough milk to assure quick growth of their newly born young. The pattern of constant heavy storms will remove many feeding spots these animals depend upon.

Of course with nature, there can also be a reverse side to any calamity. Trees that are felled by strong winds open spaces in forests for new growth, which in turns provides thicker ground cover to hide young and new food sources.

To a limited degree, infrequent strong storms will aid rivers and smaller flows especially, with a cleansing of built up debris and perhaps a change in direction, which in turn may offer better living conditions for fish and amphibian life forms.

Streams that hold cold water species such as trout will run that much cooler later into warmer months, allowing easier living conditions  and prolonged angling. And plentiful rains, but not constant deluges, assure that winter spring seeps, an important spot for food and water for wildlife, will run unceasing all year long.

I recently read that if we continue our current consumption of fossil fuels — which our present governmental leadership seems to ignore — it will be a minimum of 100 years of increasing storm strength before it turns the other direction, even if we start now with smaller amounts of burning fossil energy.

Tornadoes, downbursts, extreme flooding and extensive ground-level destruction will be the new norm, and wildlife, wild places and resources of water will all suffer just as much as their human counterparts.

All I can say is, the way the world is presently governed and operated, get used to it.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Ron Steffe

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