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February 21, 2018

2/7/2018 8:47:00 AM
Long Lake project continues through winter

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist

We don't know when waterfowl in general, ducks in particular, appeared across North America. Do you? Well, don't feel bad because no such information was found in several reference books I searched.
The last extension of the glacier period as far as southern Iowa (The Des Moines Lobe) was around 11,000 years ago. Mostly large mammals populated our region after that meltdown.
Bodies of water as large as Red Lake and "Big Winnie" along with many smaller, shallower marshes were left behind. The famous pothole region of western Minnesota, the Dakotas and Canada also remained.
With that climate and landscape change waterfowl probably slipped into North America from Europe over several thousands of years. The various species of waterfowl evolved into our now 43 in North America.
But things have changed dramatically since those pre-settlement days. The sod was broken, lakes drained and heavy inorganic fertilization now takes place to produce high yielding crops.
Some of those changes, not surprisingly, drop silt and high levels of nutrients into our remaining shallow lakes and marshes, year, after year, after year. They become polluted (eutrophic is another term) and after a time become unsuitable for anything. Anything, that is, except the foolishly introduced European Carp.
Ducks usually become the most noticeable victim and have gone from very large populations of both diver and dabbler ducks to nearly total loss of nesting divers in southwest and western Minnesota. Dabbler ducks such as our mallards are noticeably decreasing.
Enter Waterfowl
Attempts to save our ducks has been taking place for nearly a century. It has now settled into a nice plan for returning key lakes or marshes from a state of turbid water to that of clear water.
The key to that plan is the ability to drain a wetland completely, kill off the rough fish and allow plant seeds and tubers in the lake bottom to germinate. It is done by opening up the outlet and putting in a water level control structure.
Then, in subsequent years, the outlet can be opened or closed to simulate nature's droughts or high rainfall years. Open will allow winter kill of unwanted fish species and revegetation of the lake. Closed will allow the water level to rise to two to four feet levels of clear water.
Long Lake plan
Recently Long Lake in southeast Rosehill Township, five miles from Westbrook, was designated as a wildlife lake and management of it for that purpose was begun. In a very impressive partnership between Ducks Unlimited, Minnesota DNR, the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and surrounding landowners, the sizeable project was begun.
The outlet was opened, the lake lowered and the trifecta of unwanted fish (carp, black bullheads, and fathead minnows) began to die.
There were a few spots within the 206 acres, four miles of shoreline and 750 acres of watershed where ridges of silt had formed. That prevented a total drawdown.
This winter, during our current thick ice formation, heavy equipment has been moved onto the lake. The heavy soil between two points of the land is now being removed with a very long backhoe and hauled away. (see photo).
Next summer, devoid of fish, the lake bed will dry up and new shoots of vegetation will emerge. In a year or two, after vegetation is well established, the outlet will be closed and water levels allowed to return to the previous two to four feet depths.
I have previously seen this done numerous times and it works. Soon after the work ducks, geese, shorebirds, muskrats and other clear water loving wildlife will return. In the winter the tall cattails will provide protection for pheasants and deer.
If you get a chance, visit the area this spring as the project progresses. They are working out there, year-a-round. It is funded by your DU dollars, state hunting licenses, federal duck stamps and sales tax.
I'm thinking there will probably be a large invasion of bald eagles this spring. They'll be part of the clean-up crew gobbling up all those now frozen carp that have died. Better get there early!
Snowy owls
Observant wildlife watchers have been telling me of their sightings of the large white owls from the north. Known by most as snowy owls, they are usually seen on the ground or short poles
There was a time when the four-pound, five-foot wing span birds were thought to only appear during really tough winters and shortage of their main diet, the lemming. Now they are considered more common as they extend their southern edge of winter migration.
Incidentally, they do return to their summer nesting place on the tundra, north of the Arctic Circle. There they nest on the ground while devouring over a thousand lemmings each year.
With age they become more white, especially the males, while females retain the dark bars across their back. That is of course to camouflage themselves during nesting.
One nearly unbelievable leg-banded male was first caught and the band placed in New Hampshire. It was caught again in Montana 23 years and 10 months later.
Seems a long way to go to find a girlfriend for Valentine's Day.

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