Low water levels may spell poor waterfowl season
PRATT -- Both ducks and waterfowl hunters are likely to be disappointed when they arrive at southeast Kansas waterfowl areas this fall. At Marais des Cygnes Wildlife Area , near Pleasanton, prolonged drought has nearly dried the Marais des Cygnes River, preventing wildlife area staff from pumping water into area wetlands.

Karl Karrow, area manager, laments the dry weather, especially this year: “This fall is particularly frustrating because we have generally good food and cover in the marsh units," says Karrow. "All we need to do is add water, but water is scarce, and area pumps will not be able to operate unless the Marais des Cygnes Valley receives heavy rains in the next few weeks."

Karrow adds that there is some good news. "Several marshes have water remaining from last spring, and two marshes were pumped in September," he says. "In spite of this, the entire wildlife area has less than 500 acres of water in hunting pools and less than 200 acres inundated in the refuge marsh. Even with relatively few acres of water, the wildlife area has attracted about 5,000 early-migrating ducks."

Not only is the wildlife area critically low on water, but private duck clubs and natural wetlands throughout the Marais des Cygnes Valley are mostly dry. In addition, the nearby Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge is almost dry.

"There is enough water for the Youth Season (Oct. 21-22)," Karrow says, "but unless we get major rains in the next four weeks, the regular duck season will be pretty bleak here.”

The story is much the same farther south at Neosho Wildlife Area , near St. Paul.

"If we don't get rain, it's going to be pretty poor," says area manager Monte Manbeck. "We'll pump as much as possible, but the Neosho River needs about 6 inches of rain."

Currently, the area has about 350 acres of marsh with huntable water. "We have some decent water in two of the hunting pools," Manbeck explains, "and we're still pumping in the refuge. We'll try to switch back and forth between the refuge and the hunting pools as long as we can, but the river is very low."

Farther west at Otter Creek Wildlife Area, near John Redmond Reservoir , it's the same story.

"Water in the reservoir is one foot below conservation pool," says area manager Scott Barlow. "The marsh along Otter Creek has very little water, and the small marsh below the dam is bone dry."

Barlow explains that, like the other areas, Otter Creek has plenty of moist-soil plants that would attract ducks, but that doesn't help much without water. "Until we get some rain, it's pretty bad," he says.

The 10-day forecast for the region predicts only a slight chance for rain, but this could change. If heavy rains hit the area, most marshes have plenty of habitat to attract ducks. Until this happens, however, area hunters may be looking to other parts of the state for waterfowl. For more information on water conditions and waterfowl reports, visit the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) website, Click "Hunting, then "Migratory Birds," and then "Waterfowl Reports" for the most recent information.

All of southeast Kansas lies within the Late Duck Zone, where the season runs Oct. 29-Dec. 31 and Jan, 20-28, 2007. For more details, obtain a copy of the 2006 Kansas Hunting and Furharvesting Regulations Summary , available on the KDWP website or wherever licenses are sold.