Waterfowl hunters left wondering about upcoming season
Several years ago in this column I wrote an article about how local waterfowl hunters were the ultimate “spin masters”: the folks who always had hope the upcoming year would finally be the one when the ducks and geese came down and hunting was like it was way back when. I must admit I fall into that class of outdoor hopefuls, I wish that the skies were full and the straps were heavy for all the local hunters every day of the season. Those hopes for this upcoming season suffered a major setback when Ike dismantled the coastal marshes and left everything his wake basically turned upside down. Thousands of acres of pristine coastal marsh went under water as the storm surge covered up the land and changed the ecosystem forever.
For those of you that don’t frequent these marshes it’s difficult to understand the constant struggle that goes on between water and vegetation. Our own local marshes are an amazing blend of the best of both fresh and saltwater environments where the balance is critical for survival. The vast open wetland areas harbor small juvenile fish and birds until they are able to fend for themselves.
The numbers of shrimp, crabs, and other marine life that call these places home is staggering. The marshes offer up resting areas for migrating waterfowl that hunters routinely pursue with great passion. These places are special for a variety of reasons and right now they are in bad shape to say the least.
The state of disarray that many public marshes and hunting areas were left in after the storm left officials with no other choice but to close them off until they could be cleaned up and made safe for public use again. For many hunters that leaves them with few if any options for the upcoming season.
Since the storm came through a month ago I have taken some long boat rides surveying the damage for my own curiosity, just to see how much the area has changed. The most visible damage is easily the huge areas where the rousseau cane has been flattened. Many expansive tracts of land all along the lake and the marsh are now void of the cane and that leaves you to wonder how bad erosion will affect things in the future. Lush green grass that could be seen for miles before the storm has now been burnt up by the excessive amounts saltwater it was subjected to during the flooding. The various grasses and vegetation that the ducks feed on while staying in the refuges have also taken a big hit. Many of these varieties of grass don’t tolerate saltwater very well and that was plainly evident as mats of the dead grass lined backwater lakes.
Now before we go and pronounce this hunting season dead let’s back up and look at a few things. The one thing that we k now without a doubt is that the marsh is ever changing and eventually it will get back to normal. With a little help from some much needed rain there could be time enough to for some new grass to sprout, especially along the shorelines where the big concentrations of geese tend to hang out. The mild temperatures coupled with some rain and a little bit of luck may just produce some good huntable areas. A good dose of freshwater and a big north wind will be a much needed shot in the arm for the area. Purging the marsh of left over, low oxygen water will be a start. Once we get a good turnover of water the wheels will be in motion, hopefully some of the season can be salvaged as a result.
In the mean time coastal hunters should get on the road and start searching for an alternate plan in case the marsh doesn’t pan out. I would suspect that both Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn will see an increase of hunters as a result of what the storm did to the coast. Freshwater reservoirs and rivers will now be high on the list of scouted areas for die hard duck hunters. Hopefully this setback won’t be a permanent one and eventually we can go back to something close to normal. You remember normal, back when we were hoping that skies were full of ducks and the straps were heavy.