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VIEWPOINT: Wetlands boost flood risk, hurt wildlife

GATZKE, Minn. -- Agencies, organizations and environmental groups are lining up with open hands to get the windfall from the new Clean Water, Wildlife, Cultural Heritage and Natural Areas Amendment sales tax. The list includes hunting organizatio...

GATZKE, Minn. -- Agencies, organizations and environmental groups are lining up with open hands to get the windfall from the new Clean Water, Wildlife, Cultural Heritage and Natural Areas Amendment sales tax. The list includes hunting organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and different state agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources, the Board of Water and Soil Resources and so on.

The DNR and hunting world want more habitat for ducks. Their way to achieve this is with more wetlands. The watershed activists and city planners want less flooding. They also would do this by building more impoundments and wetlands.

In my view, this is all a big mistake and a recipe for more disasters.

I've lived and farmed in northwestern Minnesota for all of my 60 years and have seen the natural resources here reduced to a near-pathetic state, especially in the past 30 years. Farmland acres are down to a fraction of what they were in the 1960s. Not coincidentally since then, wetland acres and "habitat" have been increased by many thousands of acres.

Wetlands -- in the form of impoundments (which are many), plugged ditches on Conservation Reserve Program lands and the DNR plus others forcing the state and counties to ignore laws on ditch maintenance and drainage -- have contributed in a huge way to the sad situation we're in.

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Moreover, the "habitat" created by this increase in wetland acres does not sustain wildlife. Disease and parasites such as brain worm, Newcastle, botulism, West Nile and more have claimed our once-high populations of moose, ducks, hawks, owls and so on.

Ducks want a dry place, safe from flooding, for nesting. This is obvious; ask the farmers here how many ducks get their heads cut off in haying season. Why aren't the ducks nesting in all that newly created "habitat"?

I'm amazed that wildlife proponents want more wetlands.

What about flooding? Again, I'm hearing that more wetlands are the answer. But according to hydrologists, the more saturated the land is in the fall, the less snowmelt that land can absorb in the spring.

In other words, dry land absorbs more water. Well, what do you think more wetlands will do? That's right: The more wet acres you have, the more water there'll be, rushing to the rivers in spring.

More wetlands simply mean that more holding capacity already is used up, along with the ground absorption benefit.

I also hear that farm tile drainage contributes to flooding. But think about it: In early spring, the tiles are frozen up and no water comes out. Then, they drain all summer and fall when flood dangers are minimal, leading to drier land and more ground absorption the following spring.

Basically, all of the impoundments and wetlands created the past 30 years in northwestern Minnesota have increased flood dangers. If the fields had been drained completely when flooding risks were low, they could have absorbed more water when needed.

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This is common-sense management, the way nature designed it, and I think it would break disease cycles for wildlife as well. I believe these created wetlands, many of which are in areas nature didn't design water to be, harbor unwanted diseases and parasites.

Drive around here on a hot July afternoon. It smells like an open septic tank in these wildlife management areas -- and they're devoid of wildlife.

In contrast, go by farmland and ditches with running water, and you'll find ducks and other creatures existing in the "habitat" they want to be in.

What I'm saying is, look around. Think. Talk to people who make a living off the land before making a decision to spend all this money to make a bad situation worse.

I've heard it said by the duck hunting world: "We want it like it was in the Sixties -- lots of ducks." In northwestern Minnesota, that means way fewer wetlands and impoundments holding back water, cleaned ditches with running water draining those wetlands and more farmers and/or feed for wildlife.

Then, we also will have cleaner water and less flooding.

Aune farms near Gatzke.

Related Topics: WILDLIFE
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