There was magic in the marsh this past week. Pool 1B is full of water. The rest of the marsh is dry. It hasn’t rained in our area! How did that water get here?
I posed these questions to the staff at the Cheyenne Bottoms. Karl Grover is the area manager, and has been here since 1986. Charlie Swank is the District Wildlife Biologist and has been here since 1978. Gene Schneweis is the senior GMRT and his wife Kim is the Senior equipment operator. They make a terrific team to manage this area in the best way possible. I cherish their friendship and skills.
The water came from out west when it rained about 6 inches around Nokoma. It took 4 days to come down the Wet Walnut and was then diverted to pool 1B. The system of diversions and drainage and canals made this magic possible. The website for the Bottoms shows these water-management systems and is well-worth reviewing. The magic is explained very clearly.
There is a lot that happens to makes our marsh as good as it is, and a huge amount of work and dollars are involved. Our area is unique in that hunters and birders co-exist with respect for each other-- this is another kind of magic. This is the 75th anniversary of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (1937) that allows collection of a excise tax on sporting guns and ammunition. That money is apportioned back to each state based on the size of the state and the number of licenses sold. The Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area was one of the first projects in the state of Ks. to get these funds which also assist with the cost of the annual operation and maintenance of the Bottoms. Some of the best birding sites in the U.S. are on land bought and maintained using these hunter-generated monies. We all benefit from that legislation here at the Bottoms. A lot of birders are starting to buy hunting license and duck stamps to participate in our common effort to develop and promote habitat and breeding success of our birds in the marsh. It is a good process for everyone.
I asked Karl to tell me some of the highlights of his tenure and here is his reply.
1. Cattail management: In 1998 there were almost 7,000 total acres of cattails in all the pools. Management (mowing, discing, burning and some herbicide use) has reduced that number of acres to a minimum at present. This drought has made that process easier and more efficient-- Karl says that managing the Bottoms is a continual response to the weather. I see what he means.
2. Silt management: Silt is a continuing problem. That keeps Kim busy with those huge machines a lot of the time. If you get a chance to see these giant machines being handled by a delicate hand-- you will appreciate her skills. 19,000 cubic yards of silt had to be removed to keep water in the mitigation marsh. This silt management also protects and enhances the mud flats and shallow pools that attract our shore birds and waterfowl.
3. “Phragmites” is a terrible plant that will kill out or choke out almost every other plant that it contacts. It spreads in a similar fashion to bindweed and Bermuda grass. Burning and disking don’t control or kill it. It is immune to Roundup. “It spreads like cancer” and I can see the serious concern in everyone’s eyes when it is discussed. It was first discovered in the middle of pool 2 in 1996. Nobody has determined how it got there. The fight has been on ever since then. Unchecked, it spreads about 30 feet per year by putting out runners and shoots. The chemical to kill it is $90 per gallon(it originally was $270 per gallon until the patent expired and generic became available-- sounds like Lipitor and Simvastin to me.... ) A helicopter with that chemical being provided as part of the package worked 10 hours at a cost of $21,000. That is a lot of hunting licenses. It is a on-going battle.
Karl produces a Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area Newsletter that you probably didn’t know about and is a “Wow” publication. You can get it on line by dropping him a note at: email@example.com and that will save money as opposed to a printed copy being mailed.
Go see the magic water and wave “hi” to our friends that are working so hard to make it better every day for all of us and the birds!
Doc Witt is a retired urologist and Eric Giesing is a biologist.