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OUTDOORS: It’s fair to ask about effects flooding has on outdoors

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Updated: April 23, 2013 11:56PM

Like many, Carl Wanzung of South Leavitt wondered what the record flood did to fish populations and to fishing in general. I wondered about the broader wildlife issues, too.

The biggest impact might be on waterfowl. Or in damage to the dozens of public sites along the Fox, Des Plaines, DuPage and Illinois rivers. That will be assessed in the coming weeks.

‘‘Rising waters have almost assuredly flooded many nests of resident waterfowl, primarily Canada geese and mallards using low-lying areas,’’ emailed Randy Smith, the wetland wildlife program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

‘‘Wood ducks, which are cavity nesters, are also nesting at this time. Many nests are probably high enough above flood waters to avoid impact, while nest boxes placed on poles or cavities and nest boxes lower on trees will likely be impacted. Fortunately, it is early enough in the nesting season that many of these waterfowl will be able to renest.’’

Later migrators, such as blue-winged teal, many shore birds and wading birds, won’t have traditional shallow-water habitats, but the flood will create new ones.

Paul Brewer, Illinois’ wild-turkey project manager, noted turkeys are able to move and will renest, but flooding narrows wooded cover for nesting.

Grassland wildlife program manager Mike Wefer said the flood might affect small rodents more, with a tangential effect.

‘‘With fewer small mammals around, upland game birds could receive more pressure from predators in the flood areas this year,’’ he emailed.

Smith worried about the long-term impact of large sediment loads being deposited into the basins of backwater wetlands. He also worries about the long-term impact of the flood overrunning restoration projects along the Illinois River at Hennepin and Hopper Lakes, Emiquon Preserve and Spunky Bottoms.

Considering the number of ponds overrun by flooding, district fisheries biologist Frank Jakubicek said pond owners should ‘‘fish their ponds to see if spawning-size fish are around to carry things forward.’’

‘‘Fish can reproduce at sizes smaller than fishermen prefer to catch,’’ Jakubicek said. ‘‘So many times, although fishermen may say fishing stinks and there are no big fish, natural reproduction takes place anyway.’’

Jakubicek had this outline for mature fish capable of reproducing: largemouth bass, 12 inches long; bluegills, 4 to 5 inches; crappie, 7 to 8 inches.

In floods, smart fishermen know fish generally are smart enough to get out of the current, so they target quiet eddies and pockets tight to shore.

Assistant chief of fisheries Dan Stephenson didn’t think the floods would affect fish greatly in the long view.

‘‘There will be some displacement of fish, but they will recolonize when water levels return to normal,’’ he emailed. ‘‘There is some concern of high water and the movement of the Asian carp, especially near the barrier. But, as you know, there are very few, if any, within miles of the barrier. In all the surveying we’ve done over the past three years, we’ve only found the one in Lake Calumet three years ago.’’

Asian carp are a reminder that a lot of this is caused by humans.

Smith deserves the last word.

‘‘For years, society’s idea of dealing with flood water and excess precipitation was to try and get it off the landscape faster and more efficiently,’’ he said. ‘‘Clearly, this approach has failed. . . . The solutions are simple. We just need to make them a priority.’’

Wild things

I started looking (hoping?) for morel mushrooms Tuesday. Reports on have reached central Illinois.

Stray cast

Listening to Rahm Emanuel and Rick Perry, I wonder: northern pike or southern flounder?

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