Flooding affecting local wildlife habitat

Saturday, April 19, 2008
AARON EISENHAUER ~ aeisenhauer@semissourian.com A group of nine deer stand at the edge of the flood waters near Dutchtown on Wednesday morning, March 19, 2008, finding their habitat significantly altered.

SIKESTON, Mo. — Recent flooding has brought wildlife such as deer and turkey out of their normal habitat and into the areas along the levees near the Mississippi River. And while the large herds of deer — some numbering 150 or more — are a sight to see, local conservation agents urged people to give the animals their space.

"The biggest thing is staying away," said Norman Steelman, Missouri Department of Conservation agent for Mississippi County. "Right now, they're stressed out."

He said that it's OK for people to observe the deer, "as long as they stay a good distance away." Steelman didn't have a good rule of thumb, but advised spectators look through binoculars.

Leother Branch, conservation agent in Scott County, agreed that it's OK to look, but reminded people to stay within the law. "You are not allowed to spotlight wildlife at anytime, with or without a firearm," he said. That includes using a vehicle's headlights, he said.

If a person gets too close to the animals, it's unlikely the deer or turkey will become aggressive. "Most of the time, they'll try to run away from you," Branch said. "For the most part, they'll just take off and go run into the woods for cover."

However, Steelman pointed out, that can create a risky situation for others, especially motorists. For instance, he said some of the pockets of deer are near interstates and a few animals have actually been seen on the roadway. If an onlooker scares the animals, that may cause them to run in the path of traffic, which could lead to much damage, Steelman said.

Steelman said he has seen fewer people traveling on the levees. "Which is good," he said, urging motorists around flooded areas to be on the lookout for wildlife.

He and Branch reported several people in the areas have expressed concerns the animals are hungry, but that's nothing to worry about.

"The department has been going down and putting food out for them, as well as some of the landowners," said Branch. "We've been patrolling the areas from Cape Girardeau to Arkansas."

Steelman said that in Mississippi County several of the deer are grazing in the wheat field. "But that shouldn't hurt the crop at all," he said. "More than anything, they're a grazer — they don't yank the plant up completely, which is a good thing."

Branch said it's not common to see deer in a concentrated space, as they are in several areas along the river. "At Donaldson Point in New Madrid, you see pockets of deer with more than 250 in a small area," he said. There are also large groups in the Commerce, Mo., area, he said.

Typically, there is a maximum of 15 or so deer that travel together, said Steelman.

The flooding will also close some hunting areas for turkey season, which begins Monday.

According to Ken West, regional supervisor with the Missouri Department of Conservation office in Cape Girardeau, the areas will be evaluated again on Friday.

"If we get some receding in the water, we may be able to open a few of them up," said West.

Anyone wanting to know if there have been changes can drive by the sites, where it will be posted, or call the office at 573-290-5730, or their local agent.

As of Thursday, closed areas include:

Wolf Bayou, Girvin, Black Island, DeSoto and Gayoso Bend in Pemiscot County;

Ten Mile Pond and Seven Island in Mississippi County;

Donaldson Point in New Madrid County;

Coon Island in Butler County;

Ben Cash and Hornersville Swamp in Dunklin County;

Parts of Duck Creek CA in Bollinger, Stoddard and Wayne counties.

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