Missouri Closes Parts of Fountain Grove CA to Hunting

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Parts of Fountain Grove Conservation Area (CA) will be closed to hunting again this year as renovations on the area continue. The Missouri Department of Conservation says the work will restore the area's infrastructure and wetland functions, thus ensuring that it remains a magnet for migratory birds and people who love them.

The area was among Missouri's top waterfowl stopovers for much of its 60-year history. However, most of the area's infrastructure - particularly water-control structures and levees - has deteriorated with age. This has made it difficult for area managers to selectively flood various wetland pools for maximum benefit to ducks, geese, shorebirds and other wildlife.

Another problem plaguing Fountain Grove is siltation. Soil carried into the area over the years has filled in much of the low-lying ground, reducing the size of wetland pools.

The Conservation Department completed Phase I of the project last year, dredging excess soil from some areas, replacing 60-year-old water-control structures and rebuilding levees where needed. This year's work involves replacing the remaining water-control structures and revamping interior levees.

Fountain Grove also is getting a new pump to bring water into the area from the Grand River. The Conservation Department hopes to start this work next summer.

"This long-term investment into Fountain Grove means some short-term losses," said Conservation Department Wildlife Management Biologist Doreen Mengel. "Once again, portions of the area affected by construction activities will be closed to public access."

Mengel said Pools 1, 2, 3, and the H-J pool complex will be closed to waterfowl hunting this year, leaving designated pools on the area's east side and along Parsons Creek open to duck and goose hunters. The Parsons Creek wetland units depend on rainfall to fill pools, so hunting opportunity there will depend on a wet fall.

Portions of the area affected by construction activities also will be closed to archery deer hunting and other activities. For details on closed areas, call (660) 646-6122. Fountain Grove is one of five state-owned wetland areas targeted for renovation under the Conservation Department's Golden Anniversary Wetlands Initiative. In all, the agency and its partners expect to spend $16 million to restore the areas' continued productivity.

Half a century ago, the Conservation Department began developing wetland areas to recreate a small portion of the millions of acres of natural wetland lost in the previous 150 years. Duck Creek CA in southeastern Missouri, Fountain Grove and Ted Shanks CAs in the north, and Montrose and Schell-Osage CAs in the southwest were the vanguard of Missouri's wetland restoration.

Within a few years of their creation, these areas attracted hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese and other birds that need wetlands to sustain them during their annual migrations. Resident birds, furbearers and a host of other animals and plants also found homes at these man-made wetlands. People weren't far behind, pursuing opportunities to hunt, fish, watch and photograph wildlife or just enjoy sunrises and sunsets in natural landscapes.

Like all man-made mechanisms, the working parts of managed wetland areas wear out. Pipes deteriorate. Outdated, hand-operated screw-gates become inoperable. Duck Creek CA in Bollinger, Wayne and Stoddard counties typifies the quandaries that can develop on ag ing wetland areas. Annual flooding of wetland pools has reduced the vigor of bottomland hardwood forest there, requiring a rethinking of water-level management to preserve the area's unique character.

Duck Creek's large reservoir was designed as a green-tree reservoir and later used to catch water for distribution to wetland pools. It has become a productive and popular fishing spot over the past 50 years. This requires a rethinking of water-use priorities. Meanwhile, managers struggle with the physical challenges of propping up decaying infrastructure that includes wooden water gates, rusting pipes and sagging levees.

Sometimes it isn't the wetlands themselves that change, but the land around them. At Ted Shanks CA in Pike County, the construction of locks and dams on the adjacent Mississippi River raised the water table, killing ancient forests and setting off an ecological chain reaction that ended with a rising tide of reed canary grass and other invasive plant species that are not beneficial to native wildlife.

At Montrose CA in Henry County, erosion from adjacent land flushed tons of sediment into the wetlands. Missouri has made amazing progress in stopping erosion the past 10 years. But before that, as much as 15 feet of gooey sludge washed into wetland pools, drastically reducing shallow-water habitat available to wildlife and making much of the area unsuitable or even unsafe for waterfowl hunting.

Improvements in construction materials and techniques will give the five areas much longer productive lives than they enjoyed after their initial development. The past 60 years' experience also has given managers a better understanding of how plant and animal communities on the five areas function. Future management is expected to be more effective as a result.

Partners in the project include Ducks Unlimited, the University of Missouri, the Missouri Waterfowl Association, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge, the North American Wetlands Conservation Council, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Kansas City Power & Light Company.

Part of the money needed for wetland renovations is coming from grants through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). This law provides for distribution of federal duck stamp proceeds to states for projects that benefit waterfowl. NAWCA grants can be used to pay up to 50 percent of the cost of qualifying projects.

For more information about the Golden Anniversary Wetlands Initiative, see the March 2006 issue of Missouri Conservationist magazine or visit mdc.mo.gov/conmag/2006/03/20.htm.