By JIM ABRAMS
While driving anywhere across Ohio, it’s easy to see how the rain has affected the planting season. Most farmers have scarcely any corn in the ground, and there’s little chance that much more will be planted at this late date. Cover crops and no-till soybeans will be the likely scenario for many areas.
The unusually wet weather can also have detrimental effects on wildlife. Like us, some species feel the impact of flooding more seriously than others. Animals using burrows and dens can be drowned or flushed to higher ground. This can include groundhogs, rabbits, reptiles and smaller animals, such as meadow mice and voles. Those that are able to flee are displaced into what are usually less than ideal habitats, exposing them to a higher risk of predation.
Areal flooding will also impact nesting and rearing of young animals. Wild turkeys, which are especially dependent upon riparian waterways for travel, feeding, roosting and nesting, can have their nests washed away.
Quickly rising waters may also impact young animals that aren’t yet fully mobile. Young rabbits, deer fawns, ground and shrub nesting songbirds and others can be trapped by the water, unable to flee. I recently spotted a mother mink carrying one of her young out of a flooding grass waterway, no doubt seeking higher ground. I watched as she carried two additional little ones up the slope, while a fourth did its best to follow on its own.
There are some animals that do benefit when rivers and streams escape their banks. Waterfowl and herons find themselves at a smorgasbord, able to feed on flooded plants and prey on sources that they normally would not have access to. Young waterfowl are also well adapted to life on the water, and as long as they can stay in backwaters and areas of little current, their survival rate remains high.
Unfortunately, constantly exposing young animals to cool, wet conditions without a break also means that the risk of illness can significantly reduce survival. This is combated by many smaller wildlife species’ ability to re-nest several times. Larger animals are at greater risk because they generally lack that ability, and the loss of their offspring cannot be replaced until the next year.
Some have questioned whether deer will have trouble finding food sources since there will be fewer corn fields to forage this coming winter. I contacted Bob Ford, the Division of Wildlife’s wildlife management supervisor for northwest Ohio, and we talked about those concerns.
“Artificially feeding deer is unnecessary and absolutely not a good idea,” Ford said. “There are many natural foods that deer consume, including woody browse, grasses and acorns. Artificial feeding congregates deer into unnaturally close quarters and enhances the risk of disease. This can include devastating pathogenic threats such as EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease), as well as viral issues similar to the flu,” Ford explained.
“A far better way to enhance or help wildlife populations, whether deer or any other species, is to provide a better habitat mix for them to use. The edges provided by habit zones, which consist of native grasses, woodlands and shrubby transitional areas, add the variety of food and cover required by native wildlife. Adding a food plot (not a feeder) can become part of that mix,” Ford advised.
There’s also a theory that this late farming season may actually help alleviate some of these wildlife survival issues. While animals move to higher ground to escape the water, they find many fields that have not been disturbed, offering protective cover and rearing areas for young. Once the ground is dry enough to till, the wildlife will also be able to move into what has been their traditional habitat.
Finally, it’s difficult to talk about spring rains without touching on — or stepping on — earthworms. We have all seen these slimy little guys covering roadways, sidewalks and our driveways as the rain pours down. Ever wonder what draws them out? Is it the warmth of the road or some kind of escape mechanism to avoid drowning in the fields?
Since scientists claim that earthworms can live underwater for more than a week, some argue that they are leaving their burrows in a sort of instinctual migration to new areas. Personally, I think the jury is still out, but I do know that worm-eating birds don’t mind, and neither do fishermen looking for some free live bait. For me, I’ll watch my step on the sidewalk.
“Being soaked alone is cold. Being soaked with your best friend is an adventure.” — Emily Wing Smith
Along the way:
Buying your hunting or fishing license every year just got easier! The Division of Wildlife’s online licensing system now offers the option to automatically renew certain products you purchase every year, so you don’t have to worry about remembering expiration dates.
If you choose to automatically renew a license or product when it expires, you will receive email notifications before your credit card is charged. You can also opt out or manage your automatic renewal settings anytime by visiting your Division of Wildlife account management page. Automatic renewal is only available to customers who purchase their licenses online.
Log in to your account in the Ohio Wildlife Licensing System now to choose automatic renewal when either purchasing a license or by choosing to manage your account: https://oh-web.s3licensing.com/
• Today and tomorrow: “A House Divided.” Travel back in time for a full Civil War experience, complete with battles and gun and cannon demonstrations from Union and Confederate troops, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Ohio Village, 800 E. 17th Ave., Columbus.
• Tomorrow: Mixed target archery shoot. Registration opens 8 a.m., Field and Stream Bowhunters, 11400 Allen Township 109. Contact Harold Spence at 419-423-9861.
• Tomorrow: International Defensive Pistol Association shoot. Registration opens at 9 a.m., competition at 10 a.m., United Conservation and Outdoor Association, 6943 Marion Township 243.
• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet. Open to the public, 5 p.m. UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243.
• Aug. 17: Sportsmen’s Alliance 23rd annual rally. Includes silent auctions, games and raffles with top-quality guns and outdoor gear. There will also be a wide variety of hunting and fishing outings close to home and across North America. Seating is limited, and this event will sell out. Tickets are available at www.sportsmensalliance.org/rally or by calling 614-888-4868. Rally proceeds benefit the alliance’s mission to protect hunting, fishing and trapping for generations to come. Doors open at 4 p.m., Villa Milano Banquet and Conference Center, 1630 Schrock Road, Columbus.
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.