Great Bend — The deepening spring drought in parts of Kansas is turning wetlands dry, grassland to dirt, and threatening wildlife that depend on spring rains.
Cheyenne Bottoms near Great Bend, a haven among duck hunters, has begun to shrivel, said refuge manager Karl Grover. Weekend rains amounted to about half an inch - just enough to turn it muddy, but not nearly enough to make a difference.
Cheyenne Bottoms usually is home to between 20,000 and 40,000 ducks, but right now there are fewer than 1,000, Grover said. The Arkansas River and Wet Walnut, which usually flow into Cheyenne Bottoms, have been dry for weeks.
"It didn't hurt anything by any stretch," Grover said of the recent showers. "But we are going to need a big rain to turn things around."
The same problem is occurring at McPherson Valley Wetlands, where public lands officer Brent Theede said only three of 23 pools had any water. Hot winds could evaporate what little is left in a few days.
"We are looking forward to torrential rains this spring," said Theede, who said the pools usually held about 1,200 acres of water but now accounted for less than one. "What I'm hearing doesn't sound promising."
The recent showers - up to 2 inches in parts of the state - did make a difference at Kingman County's Byron Walker Wildlife Area, but wildlife manager Troy Smith said the early dry spell would have residual effects.
Newborn wildlife such as turkeys and upland birds depend on insects to survive, and a late spring rain means insect populations won't explode until May or June. Smith also worries that the wheat crop, which provides important habitat for pheasants, will come up short.
"You can lose birds from not having food available," Smith said.
Domestic animals can be lost as well.
In parts of western Kansas, grassland has been severely damaged because of the drought, and many livestock producers are anxiously watching the forecasts for any sign of rain.
Cimarron National Grassland manager Joe Hartman said the recent shower amounted to about a tenth of an inch, "but everything we get helps."