OUTDOORS: Mother Nature cruel to hunters, wildlife

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 15, 2002


Mother Nature has not been kind to Louisiana’s fishermen and hunters lately.

First Tropical Storm Isidore then Hurricane Lili, complete with huge tidal surges and damaging winds, literally cut through the coastline causing damage to fish, wildlife and habitat.

Aside from postponement and/or cancellations of a number of rodeos and tournaments, the high tides, winds and waves mostly just harassed anglers and prevented them from venturing out for the last two weekends. Several marinas and launches were still closed for business as they waited for waters to recede, get their electricity and telephone lines restored and generally cleaning up the mess water over docks and in buildings can cause.

As for the fish, saltwater species seemed to have fared pretty well with the only significant kills being reported from Vermillion Bay and Marsh Island. Freshwater areas in Lili’s path were a different story. While the kills in the Atchafalaya Basin appear to be nowhere near the 175 million-plus fish that perished during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 there have been some extensive damage to freshwater species in several areas.

“There are hundreds of thousands of dead fish there,” LDWF fisheries manager Glen Thomas said.

Hardest hit areas seem to be the Belle River and its canals and tributaries on the eastern side of the Atchafalaya Spillway levee. At press time officials were still investigating several other areas where dead fish were showing up including the Wax Lake Outlet.

What causes mortality in fish during storms is low oxygen when high winds churn up water from the bottom.

Hunters also were affected by the storm. LDWF temporarily closed all deer hunting areas south of Interstates 10 and 12 last weekend and reopened it this week when water had receded allowing stranded deer and fawns to return to the safety of the woods. The entire Pearl River WMA was closed to deer hunters but has since reopened. LDWF officials are expecting a number of fawns to have died in the storm but aside from dead nutria and muskrat most of the other species probably fared pretty well.

Duck hunters fear the worst as storm surge can devastate grasses and other aquatic vegetation needed to hold migrating waterfowl.

“All of the floating vegetation went out with Isidore,” Marshland Adventures hunting service owner Steve Himel said. “The bottom vegetation was still there but we’ll have to see if Lili wiped that out too. It’s certainly going to have a negative effect on our duck numbers this season.”

Several public Wildlife Management Areas were pretty hard hit. Pointe-Aux-Chene WMA near Larose suffered the most damage. Eight to nine feet of water rose beneath the LDWF office building. Up to 10 miles of levee system surrounding two freshwater impoundments was topped by floodwaters.

The combination of saltwater intrusion and tidal surge removed or killed most of the aquatic vegetation in the ponds and will affect duck hunting there.

Marsh Island Refuge was also damaged by an eight-foot storm surge that damaged a building and killed a large number of muskrats. Atchafalaya Delta WMA sustained tree damage and three houseboats were damaged. Assistant Secretary Phil Bowman said the damage assessment is ongoing and LDWF will issue requests for federal emergency funds for repairs.

The 39th Annual Caminada Redfish Rodeo on Grand Isle originally set for September was rescheduled for Oct. 18-20.

Rodeo headquarters will be at the Sand Dollar Marina on the east end of the island, for information and tickets call 985-787-2500.

DON DUBUC is the outdoors reporter for L’Observateur.