A millet-seeding program that has attracted millions of waterfowl and thousands of duck hunters to Kaw Lake the past 15 years, and sporadically dating back in to the 1980s, may have come to its end.
The news comes as a potential economic hit to lakeside communities and Ponca City.
Kaw Lake Association President Ray Weidman said the news was “disheartening.”
“It kind of blindsided us,” he said. “It’s mind boggling they can pull the plug on something like that, that has been so successful for so long, without consideration of the local economic impact.”
Each year the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation worked with the Tulsa District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on an annual “deviation request” that had the Corps lower the lake level to allow aerial seeding of mud flats in late summer and to slowly raise the water level into the migration season so ducks could take advantage of the millet seed.
While Mother Nature only allowed the plan to work about 60 percent of the time, the successful years resulted in 1,200 to 2,000 acres of millet for the birds and brought waterfowl hunters to the lake from across the country, according to Josh Richardson, migratory waterfowl biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“We will not be adjusting lake levels for the purpose of millet seeding at the lake,” said Tulsa District Corps Spokesman Brannen Parrish. “A National Environmental Policy Act study would have to take place and we would have to do an allocation study for a seasonal pool deviation and that is something that costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time.”
Parrish said the change apparently resulted from a closer look at procedures, which were mandated by Congress for each Oklahoma lake.
“It’s one of those things, we have done it in the past and maybe someone was trying to be cooperative, but upon reviewing policy it was determined we can’t keep doing it without a NEPA study,” he said.
Richardson said Wildlife Department officials have been meeting with local Corps officials to discuss possibilities but he is losing hope for a solution.
“We’ve been trying to figure out if there is a way around it,” he said. “I still hope we can get something worked out, but for this year it is not looking good.”
Nathan Johnson, Ducks Unlimited Regional Director for Oklahoma, said his organization will be looking into the situation and developing a response.
“This caught everyone by complete surprise,” he said. “Our stance right now is the Corps has a chance to significantly benefit waterfowl in the Central Flyway by providing that habitat.”
Alan Stacey, a wetlands consultant for DU and the Wildlife Department, said such programs – funding by state duck stamp money – are important to migrating waterfowl and other birds.
“Talking big picture, historically, Kaw Lake had become an important stepping stone for birds migrating in the Central Flyway,” he said. “Going back 150, 200 years ago Oklahoma had 3 million acres of wetlands. Over the years 70 percent of that has been wiped off the face of the Earth and the other 30 percent are permanently changed.”
The millet program will not stop, but the odds for success on Kaw now will be equal to those on Eufaula, Oologah, Hulah and Texoma lakes, Richardson said. Where odds of successful seeding on Kaw were better than 60 percent, on other lakes where Mother Nature had more influence, success was often closer to 10 percent, he said.
“The program itself is beneficial,” Richardson said. “We just kind of got stuck in the red tape and now we’re trying to figure out how to move forward.”
Parrish emphasized that the state still can attempt millet seeding if weather and water levels allow.
“If the conditions are right and they spread seed and it works, then great,” he said. “We just can’t adjust the lake levels for the purpose of seeding.”
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