Without water, birds bypassing wetlands for other areas



CHEYENNE BOTTOMS -- Karl Grover can't get May 4, 2007, out of his mind.

That's when a 6- to 7-inch rain pushed water levels at the wetlands to record levels.

"One storm event in the right place can change things dramatically," he said.

In the meantime, he and his crew of three pushes hard to gets things done that can only be done when the marshy area is dry.

And there's plenty of work to do, he said.

The progression of Cheyenne Bottoms from wet to dry was featured recently by NASA on its State of Flux website, part of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.

The site features images -- three satellite images in the case of Cheyenne Bottoms -- showing change over time.

"Some of these effects are related to climate change, some are not," the site explains. "Some document the effects of urbanization, or the ravage of natural hazards such as fires and floods. All show our planet in a state of flux."

Grover sees that state of flux on a daily basis.

"We're bone dry," he said of the nearly 20,000-acre wildlife area northeast of Great Bend. "I think we went dry the first week or so of July."

It's the first time since 1991.

"Naturally, before this place was developed, it would go dry every five to six years," he said.

But when Kansas purchased the property and it was developed, the regular pattern of wet-and-dry was staved off.

"I've been here since 1986, and this is the second time we've been dry," he said.

The idea was to manage the water to provide hunting opportunities for waterfowl.

That turn to dry as the 1980s came to a close prompted a request for water management along the Wet Walnut. Ultimately, and intensive groundwater use control area was established, reducing irrigation from the river.

"That helped a bunch," Grover said of the IGUCA.

But with little rain and virtually no flow in either the Wet Walnut or the Arkansas River, both of which feed Cheyenne Bottoms, conditions turned dire.

He also points to natural conditions.

"We're in a 25-inch rainfall area," Grover said, while evaporation can reach 60 inches each year. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out we're going to go dry if we don't get supplemental rains."

Without water, there won't be much -- if any -- waterfowl hunting.

"The migratory season here is not going to be that great," he said.

Instead, hunters will have to turn to either Jamestown Wildlife Area, northwest of Concordia, or Quivira Wildlife Refuge near Stafford.

Quivira had been dry as well, but a 5-inch rain in late August returned water to much of the 22,000-acre refuge.

Hunting at Cheyenne Bottoms, Grover said will be limited to resident wildlife -- upland game birds and deer.

"We've got nothing to attract ducks," he said.

They pass over, looking for water, but continue on until they can find some.

While the dry conditions don't help waterfowl, it's provided the opportunity to get work done on areas of the wetlands.

But with only one equipment operator, it's a slow process.

"We've got a lot of irons in the fire," Grover said.