Everything from turkey poult production to pheasant recruitment to the timing and placement of stocked channel catfish is being dampened by the rains.
Even the submissions of Fish Ohio applications appears to have experienced at least some drenching by the rains.
More directly, though, is the rains’ influences on crop planting. How serious is this production threat can be seen weekly in figures tabulated by the federal government’s Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. These figures are passed along to the Oho Department of Agriculture.
Ohio has approximately 78,000 farms totaling some 14 million acres. Corn, by far, comprises the largest cash crop, its planting accounting for about 6.7 million acres of this total.
And data compiled by the Statistics Service acknowledges that as of June 17 – the last date for which figures were available at writing time – 68 percent of the state’s corn crop was planted compared to 100 percent for both last year and the five-yer average.
The statistics were even more dismal for soybeans: 46 percent planted as of June 17 compared to 94 percent last year as well as for the five-year average.
Whether these figures will rebound is uncertain, however.
“This situation is still in flux, and that cannot be determined at this time,” said Ohio Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Shelby Croft.
While hope for a rebound cannot entirely be abandoned, the situation is grim enough that Governor Mike DeWine on June 14 petitioned U.S. Agriculture Department Secretary Sonny Perdue for an agricultural disaster designation for Ohio.
Still, the substantial and sustained rains that Ohio’s been encountering may very well have all ready negatively impact ground-nesting birds. Among the vulnerable species are quail, ring-necked pheasants and wild turkeys, assesses Mark Wiley, the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s forest game biologist.
“Unfortunately, much of our better pheasant habitat is on CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) land, and that is just the sort of land that is set aside because it’s the most marginal for farming and consequently is also the most prone to reoccurring flooding,” Wiley says.
Too, Wiley says when forest edge cover is missing it’s common for some ground-nesting bird species to move their chicks into crop fields. Here, the family can take cover underneath a “canopy of maturing soybean leaves” and other growing grains, Wiley says.
Flood those field - or else not plant those fields at all - and the proper protecting cropland vegetation never materializes, Wiley says.
As for wild turkey poults, while these young birds are able to join their mothers in jumping into trees to roost at night and consequently cam avoid any flooding, the young are no less vulnerable to hypothermia and pneumonia as are quail and pheasant chicks, Wiley says.
In looking at any
“The problem’s been, we just haven’t dried out long enough,” Wiley says. “Everything in moderation, including rainfall and temperatures.”
Make no mistake, either, says Wildlife Division aquatic scientists, even the agency’s fish management program has experienced challenges brought about by the seemingly incessant stretches of rumbling thunderstorms, rain showers and cold fronts.
Among those tests of patience involves the Wildlife Division’s St. Marys Fish Hatchery, located in the low-lying region of Auglaize County. Here, the agency saw itself stoking the pumps in order to remove the excessive rain water from the fish-rearing ponds, says Kevin Kayle, administrator for the Wildlife Division’s fish hatchery section.
“That issue impacted our channel catfish production at St. Marys but we’ve been able to readjust our stocking schedule, and we’ve also obtained catfish from our other hatcheries,” Kaye said.
Kayle did say the stocking of catchable trout, steelhead, walleye, yellow perch and saugeyes has gone off within a drop of complaint to muddy the scheduling of waters.
However, sometimes the agency needed adopted a strategy of re-positioning the location of where such stocking occurs. This approach is being accomplished because inland reservoirs are designed to expel excess water over spillways or down other draining systems.
And that release of water can include the loss of both recently stocked fish as well as existing populations of a reservoir’s resident fish, Kayle says.
“In those case we’ve gone to stocking the middle and upper sections of reservoirs and lakes,” Kayle says.
In other respects the inundation has not proven itself to be a negative issue. This year’s to-date Fish Ohio program’s application entries are running close to what they were one year ago, says the administrator of that program, Vicki Farus.
Farus said as of June 20, the Wildlife Division had recorded 4,033 Fish Ohio applications. That is a drop of only 103 applications from one year ago, Farus said.
Sales of fishing licenses thus far also have seen little impact. Combining the various resident license permits – even taking into account the newly created multi-year resident fishing licenses – to-date sales as of June 21 were down only 20,354 tags: 515,547 for to-date in 2018 and 495,193 to-date this year, says Andy Burt, the Wildlife Division official in charge of tracking fishing and hunting license sales.
Similarly the heavy rains may even have resulted in some positive non-intended consequences.
Wildlife Division deer biologist Clint McCoy says ample precipitation in the spring “undoubtedly has a positive impact on fawn survival in a couple of ways.”
First, sufficient rainfall will provide good hiding cover once the fawns are born, offering bad weather-protected bedding sites for the young deer, McCoy says.
“And the other positive, of course, is that good ground cover can make it more difficult for a predator to find a fawn,” McCoy said.
McCoy says spring rain-enhanced lush vegetation actually “provides important nutritional resources for the doe.”
“The better condition the mother is in, the better she can provide nourishment for her fawn, and she can stay closer to her offspring, too,” McCoy says.
Though while cool weather with rains can cause some fawns to fatally experience hypothermia; in wet summers, fewer human-caused direct mortality of deer is likely, McCoy says.
“I’ve talked to a few folks who have yet to get a first cutting of hay, and these people may only get one cutting due to the wet weather. For fawns that can survive the elements, they’re less likely to be caught up in farm machinery this year,” McCoy says.
When considering adult deer, with crops being planted later in this sowing season and delayed crop maturation, Ohio’s hunters should see “more standing crops during the deer season” than is typically encountered.
“As you know, those conditions do not bode well for deer hunters looking to fill a tag. Standing corn provides a frustratingly good place for deer to hide,” McCoy says. “On the other hand, the deer could have a significant food source available to rack up on fat stores that will prepare them for the winter.”
Thus, the recent rains have – and will continue to – proven to be both a blessing and a curse.
“At least with the high water levels the steelhead won’t have any problems making up the streams,” added Mentor angler Bob Ashley.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn