Montana is Complete

Written by Rob Spangler
Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rob SpanglerWhen the weather finally cleared we had six straight days of good flying weather. After sitting for six days due to rain, it was surprising how little water was seen on the landscape. With the dry conditions, most moisture was absorbed into the soil, leaving little to fill wetlands and reservoirs. Less than half of the wetlands had any water to speak of and many reservoirs were 25-40% of capacity. The habitat in Medicine Lake, a notable waterfowl haven, had decreased considerably from last year and birds there were crowded into available ponds and lakes. This was the trend in many areas – where water was found, densities of waterfowl were high, leading to overcrowding in areas with little nesting vegetation.

There is a silver lining, though. Wetlands are some of our most productive ecosystems and variability in water level to a large part helps to fuel that productivity. Over time, plant life grows and dies, depositing large amounts of organic material at the bottom, where they and their nutrients are trapped in an anoxic layer at the bottom effectively “locking” them up, limiting productivity. However, when a wetland dries out, this layer is exposed to oxygen, allowing microbes and insects to break down the material, “unlocking” the nutrients so they can move readily up the food chain.

Dry conditions persist in central Montana, despite recent rains. Credit: Rob Spangler, USFWS

Dry conditions persist in central Montana, despite recent rains. Credit: Rob Spangler, USFWS

Dry conditions in stratum 41. Credit: Rob Spangler, USFWS

Dry conditions in stratum 41. Credit: Rob Spangler, USFWS