Norton Wildlife Area

       A number of projects have been completed across the Wildlife Area this year. Upwards of 250 acres of cover crops and 80 of sunflowers were drilled to increase game habitat quality, and over 300 acres of upland prairie were spray-treated to reduce smooth bromegrass encroachment and bolster diversity of native grasses and forbs; intensive late-spring grazing was conducted at two grassland plots to suppress cool-season invasive plants and advance prairie succession. Three successful prescribed burns were also undertaken across the Wildlife Area as part of efforts to improve understory habitat quality for upland birds and restore overgrown areas to cottonwood savannah.

       2023 has also seen a significant uptick in all forms of precipitation compared to the previous years, most notably in the form of hail - light to moderate hailstorms were frequent this summer, and a particularly violent storm featuring a small tornado deposited several inches of hail across the Widlife Area in late May. Between hail, rain, and snow, the lake has risen several feet over the course of the year, with several riparian flats around the reservoir and along Prairie Dog Creek having become inundated.

       Overall, habitat across the Norton Wildlife Area is in good condition in 2023. Water level rises have significantly increased wetland acreage, and both prairie and cottonwood savannah restoration efforts have seen marked successes this year - smooth brome continues to decline across the Wildlife Area, and significant progress has been made in opening up the understory of wooded areas from thickets. It is hoped that these results will support the rebound of resident upland gamebird populations from the effects of prolonged drought, particularly quail; annual surveys indicate a downward trend in abundance, with both drought and this year's hail being suspected as responsible.