Re: Grays Lake NWR threat

Richard and Ann Rusnak

Greetings All, Another FYI, this regarding potentially bad news for one of ID greatest NWR.
Rich Rusnak, Nampa


I found this article in the Capital Press Ag newspaper today,

NRCS may offer flood irrigation program to aid bird


Capital Press

To maintain key forage habitat for a wading bird, the Natural Resources Conservation Service may soon discuss perks for certain eastern Idaho growers who flood irrigate.

The policy would represent an about-face for the agency, which has long offered financial incentives to encourage farmers to upgrade to water-efficient sprinkler systems.

Research conducted this summer by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game suggests the white-faced ibis relies heavily upon flood irrigation for feeding. Ibises seek fly larvae and invertebrates in shallow water, said Rob Cavallaro, IDFG regional wildlife biologist.

"Ibises wash their prey. They prefer to clean them," Cavallaro said. "Another reason is the superabundance of prey after a farmer floods a field. It becomes like a bug soup."

The populations studied by IDFG nest on floating mats of bulrush and cattails within the Mud Lake Wildlife Management Area, located 40 miles west of Rexburg, Idaho, and the Market Lake Wildlife Management Area, which is 18 miles northwest of Idaho Falls.

Cavallaro explained the bird is not federally protected but is listed as an Idaho species of greatest conservation need. He noted the two lakes were formerly surrounded by vast tracts of shallow wetlands, which were mostly drained for agricultural production.

Ornithologist Chuck Trost has conducted counts of white-faced ibis in southeast Idaho.

"I know 10 years ago there were literally 50,000 of them feeding on the edge of American Falls Reservoir. Now there are hundreds of them, but not 50,000," Trost said.

IDFG worked on the study with staff from the Idaho Bird Observatory, a nongovernmental organization that monitors and researches bird populations, and volunteers from the Idaho Falls Master Naturalist Program. Participants drove routes around the wildlife management areas, taking GPS recordings of ibis locations and noting which types of agricultural lands they used. They overwhelmingly utilized flood-irrigated fields, with a preference for alfalfa.

Cavallaro said preliminary study results were released Dec. 20, and a final report is being drafted.

He anticipates potential flood-irrigation incentives for willing landowners in those areas could be offered through the farm bill or Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Karen Fullen, state biologist with the NRCS, said her organization could also be part of a flood-irrigation incentive program.

"I'm concerned about all wildlife species and wondering how to fit this in with competing resource concerns like water and keeping water in the Snake River for fish and endangered species.

Mud Lake area grower David Burtenshaw still flood irrigates a few plots of land he deems too small for pivots. He's never heard of the white-faced ibis.

"I've been on the water board for a lot of years, and I've watched that whole country go from flood to pivot. Now there are very few people flooding any more. Even those guys who do are going to pivots," Burtenshaw said. "It's a little more efficient, and it seems like year to year you can raise a better crop."


Denise Hughes
Caldwell, Idaho

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