ENID, Okla. — Putting salt back in Plains
Salt Plains is another area suffering due to the drought. The area’s wildlife is seeing much of the negative impact.
“The main thing is our winter waterfowl population was down quite a bit,” said Salt Plains refuge biologist Glen Hensley.
Each year 90-95,000 geese roost overnight at Salt Plains during the winter months.
“I believe we maxed out for a short period in November at about 50,000 geese,” said Hensley. “We usually peak in goose numbers in late December, early January.”
December 2012 saw about 17,000 geese compared to its usually 95,000 said Hensley.
“They moved on. They didn’t stick around.”
Hensley said the 50,000 ducks usually come in during peak time, but this winter only saw about 20,000 ducks.
“We maybe had 20,000 tops in about November, a month early,” said Hensley.
The migrating waterfowl depend each year on Salt Plains as a place to rest.
“Salt Plains is kind of a rest and refueling station along the migration,” said Hensley.
Like Canton, Great Salt Plains Lake is suffering a receding shoreline.
“The lake is really low,” said Hensley. “There’s really no way to judge how low. The lake elevation gauge is on the dam, and the water isn’t to the dam. The water line is about half a mile from the dam.”
The waterfowl aren’t the only birds affected by the drought at Salt Plains.
“It’s affected the eagles because they eat ducks and fish,” said Hensley. “The oxygen supply was depleted (in the water) and we had a fish kill. The mid-winter eagle survey was down this year.”
The lack of water also prevented the area’s wetlands from flooding, which hinders the reproduction of certain insect species, such as dragonflies, and reduces the amount of available drinking water for other wildlife.
Salt Plains hosts a public hunting area, but due to the lack of birds in the area, Salt Plains and other places in the area saw fewer hunters. These hunters usually come from all over the state and other states.
“Farmers might have had reduced income because of their hunting leases,” said Hensley.
The salt crystal digging area was successful throughout the past year, but the other areas at Salt Plains saw fewer visitors.
“We hope it’s going to get better, but I think it’s going to be another bad year,” said Hensley. “We have wet periods and dry periods. Hopefully it gets wet again.”