Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) officials say the drought’s effects on fish and wildlife have been significant but not drastic. They say if drought conditions continue, as some predict, hunting and fishing could ultimately be affected.
According to LDWF Private Land Biologist Jeffrey Taverner conditions, while not good, are not as bad as expected.
“The mass crop – the acorns and different other hardwood species fruits – is actually looking good,” Taverner said. “They’re not the best and largest acorns because of the lack of water we had, but surprisingly we did put on good acorns.”
However, this winter could end up being more harsh than usual for many species.
“Once you get that first heavy frost, it’s going to kill off a lot of the vegetation that the deer and other animals are utilizing,” Taverner said. “They’re not necessarily going to be starving to death over the winter, but they will be hurting for food.”
Although current food supplies are better than expected, water levels are still low.
“Those animals that have to drink water are tied to those sources of water,” Taverner said. “Because of the drought, there are very few good sources of water. Other small species – like squirrels – can get their water from the mass crop so they’re not hurting quite as bad.”
Reduced water supply is also driving wildlife into populated areas, which can cause more predators to follow. Taverner said LDWF has a list of approved venders to deal with wild animal problems. Citizens with wildlife concerns should call their local LDWF office first for assistance.
If the drought continues, large die-offs of wildlife are not expected.
“What you are going to get is old or young or unhealthy animals are probably going to end up dying because it’s harder for them to get the food, and their body’s not in as good of health going through winter,” said Taverner.
Young and newborn wildlife will be affected as well.
Taverner said, “Next year you’re looking at low birth rate and low birth weight. In the springtime they’ll be putting more energy into regaining body growth and body weight to get themselves healthy than they are going to be putting into antler growth.”
Even if the drought doesn’t continue, its effects could last into the future.
“White Oaks take one year to produce (acorns), Red Oaks take two years to produce,” Taverner said. “The Red Oaks … the flowers from last year are the ones dropping this year. The drought we’ve had this year will have an effect on next year’s acorns.”
Louisiana fisheries are accustomed to floods and drought, however recent conditions have affected fish more negatively than wildlife.
LDWF Director of Inland Fisheries Mike Wood said, “Low water is a natural event in the fall. Of course extreme low water can be too much of a good thing.”
Wood pointed out that some floods and drought are normal.
“Theoretically, it works out very well to have a spring flood and a fall low water period,” he said.
“The flood encourages spawning which is very good,” he continued. “If you are a shoreline resident in a low area, it’s not very good, but it’s good for fisheries. It can be very healthy; it’s a natural event.”
Low water has its negative side, though.
“If the water is too shallow and heats up too much, that can be a problem because hot water doesn’t hold as much oxygen,” Wood said.
Receding bodies of water also reduce quality through lower flow and can confine fish to smaller areas.
“If you’ve got a lot of large fish combined a little bit too tightly with the young-of-the-year fish, they may suffer a little bit more mortality than they should for the balance of the population,” Wood said.
The results of low water in the state could increase if drought conditions continue into the future.
“Throughout the state we’ve already had a number of low oxygen related fish kills as a result of low water and low flow,” said Wood.