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Good and bad for area's waterfowl

Geese swim Tuesday at the pond near the Flags of Honor in Willmar. The fast snow melt has raised the water levels and provides ample habitat for waterfowl migrating north. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Good and bad occurs with most situations.

Take the warm temperatures and rapid snow melt over the past week. For people, the water produced by melting snow is not so good. It threatens basements and foundations and the general sanity of the public.

But the good is for waterfowl. Flooding means more places for ducks and geese to stop on their way to breeding grounds farther north.

"A lot of those wetlands that may be dry in the spring will have more water in them and that will bring more waterfowl," said Scott Glup, district manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Litchfield. "Migrating birds really like the shallow water. That will make great migrational habitats for birds in the spring. We might even have more breeding habitat."

Geese have began making pit stops recently at the Flags of Honor park in Willmar and more are expected to come. Soon, ducks will start making their stops in shallow wetlands dotting the countryside.

"It provides a lot of sheet water for the migrating birds," said Josh Kavanagh, the state biologist for Ducks Unlimited in Minnesota. "I've talked with a bunch of different managers and they haven't seen a lot yet. But it won't be long."

There is also a little bit of bad for waterfowl -- or more precisely -- the humans that want to help create or restore habitat for the birds.

The more flooding we have will affect the pace of habitat projects, ranging from controlled burns to lake drawdowns.

"At Olson Lake, we got good vegetation growth last year," said Glup. "But now the water is flowing backwards, filling the wetland up from that direction. We had to put stop logs in the structure to keep fish from getting into it. It's going to fill up anyway. If it floods full, it drowns the new vegetation. We'll want to draw the water down again."

But Glup also noted that a full drawdown might not happen because the extra water might affect the landowners downstream.

The flooding makes it harder for other projects, similar to the pump project last fall at Cory Lake near Dawson, to get going.

"We actually have some contractors going on some of our projects and it's a muddy mess," Kavanagh said. "We have a bunch of projects that we want to have completed by the end of June, but they're having a hard time."

The reason for a number of these projects is to increase aquatic vegetation in shallow wetland, providing a more enticing food source for waterfowl. Too much water drowns the new vegetation and allows undesirable fish species -- carp and bullheads -- to migrate back into these waters and destroy the vegetation.

"These wetlands have so much connection with drainage systems," said Glup. "All this high water might give the carp a chance to swim into the wetlands again."

Waterfowl feast on invertebrates in the water and also wild rice, which could be affected this year.

"The last couple of years, we've had some phenomenal wild rice production in northern Kandiyohi County because the water levels were lower," Glup said.

There's good and bad in everything.