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Drought leaves wetlands not so wet

7/30/2012

WICHITA (AP) -- Two of Kansas' premier wetlands are in danger of drying up, and wildlife officials said that could be devastating for waterfowl hunters and wildlife watchers down the road.

On the flip side, managers at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge said the low to nonexistent water levels give them access to areas they usually can't get to when water is plentiful.

"It's kind of depressing driving around and looking at this," said Karl Grover, Cheyenne Bottoms manager. "But these dry cycles let us get out and get a lot of work done we couldn't otherwise."

The Wichita Eagle reported Sunday wildlife officials believe the conditions of the central Kansas wetlands are probably the worst they've been in 20 years.

Cheyenne Bottoms, near Great Bend, has cracks crisscrossing broad expanses of dirt usually covered by water. Only about an acre's worth of stagnant puddles remain.

At Quivira, winds blow up white salt storms across bone-dry alkali marsh beds.

One of the area's top features, Big Salt Marsh, is approximately 80 percent dry, while Little Salt Marsh still has approximately 30 percent of its water, but it's shallow.

"We had a fish kill out there, and we could see the wading birds that were feeding (on the carcasses) weren't wading very deep," said David Farmer, a Quivira wildlife refuge specialist. "If we don't get some rain, it will probably dry up within the next month."

Both wetland areas usually have thousands of acres of shallow water intertwined with lush marsh plants. That makes them a popular resting place for millions of migrating birds every fall, but that could change if the skies don't open up with precipitation sometime soon.

"Shorebirds, ducks and geese, they're long-range fliers," said Max Thompson, an ornithologist and birding author from Winfield. "If they don't find what they need here, they'll just keep going until they do find it."