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Bayou Meto WMA habitat loss is inconspicuous

by Bryan Hendricks | May 26, 2019 at 2:20 a.m.

June is a week away, and the green tree reservoir at Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area remains above flood pool.

It will be high for a while as a torrent rushes down the Arkansas River from Oklahoma, where flood control reservoirs are at or above maximum storage capacity.

As we noted recently, this puts additional stress on the distressed red oak timber in the green tree reservoir area that encompasses about 14,000 of Bayou Meto WMA's 36,000 acres. It will push some of the timber past the point of recovery. Trees will die and be replaced with species that are better adapted to increasingly prolonged wet conditions.

It shouldn't be this way. A multifaceted project was authorized long ago to remedy this situation, but it is incomplete and nonfunctional.

The deadbeat dad in this drama is the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, the nonfederal sponsor responsible for funding and directing the various components of the Bayou Meto Water Management Project.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, which owns Bayou Meto WMA, is the abused spouse in this marriage. Its chairman, Ford Overton of Little Rock, recently asked the Natural Resources Commission for a divorce, but arranged marriages are permanent.

Urgency dis-serves Bayou Meto. Even if all of the money necessary to complete the water management project was available today and construction crews began working immediately, it would take at least a year before a pump at Reydell could drain the WMA.

In the meantime, summer will bring drier weather, the wildlife management area will drain by gravity, and the urgency will evaporate. The only people that will visit between now and the opening of duck season in November will be the handful that participate in George Cochran's annual Bayou Meto cleanup in August. The trees will be full and green, and the woods will look the same as always.

Mortally damaged trees will not fall all at once, and the green tree area will not look like a clear cut. That's not how it works.

Instead, duck-friendly oaks will die a few at a time, as they have done for years. Succeeding them will be hardwoods that are adapted to prolonged periods of still, standing water during the growing season. They're the ones that cast big acorns that only deer can eat.

Of course, sunlight drenches open soil when trees fall, promoting brushy growth that ducks use for refuge cover. Brush is ephemeral and disappears when the forest canopy shades it out.

Most people will never know the difference, except that fewer numbers of mallards use it than in the past. They'll blame that on the Game and Fish Commission for not flooding the area soon enough, or for releasing water early when it floods too soon, for clearing brush and for other situational phenomena that we can blame in our normal shortsighted fashion.

As long as this wet cycle persists, the Game and Fish Commission will not be able to restore desirable hardwoods. Prolonged periods of high, still water will drown out oak seedlings almost immediately.

About the only chance of success would be to stagger flooding of the WMA's various compartments, including years when compartments are not flooded at all.

Of course, that would mean that somebody's favorite honey hole would be dry for a season, and people generally do not tolerate temporary inconvenience for permanent profit.

That won't be possible anyway until the canal to feed water to the Reydell pump station is complete and the pump station is running.

Even then, the partners in this marriage can't agree on who is responsible to pay for the electricity to run the pump. To that end, members of the Game and Fish Commission met Friday with officials from Entergy to discuss possibilities for providing power.

That should have been the Natural Resources Commission holding that meeting, but apparently it can't be bothered.

Sports on 05/26/2019

Print Headline: Bayou Meto WMA habitat loss is inconspicuous


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