Floodwaters at St. Catherine to linger for a few more months

Published 12:56 am Sunday, February 7, 2010

NATCHEZ — High water levels have kept guns out of St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge this hunting season.

Gun season has come and gone at the refuge, and refuge manager Bob Strader said plans for youth and other organized deer hunts will have to wait another year.

“We never were able to use guns (for deer) all season,” Strader said. “We were able to get a week of duck hunting in Jan. 23 through the end of the month.”

Assistant refuge manager Chris Swanson said with rabbit season in full swing, he’s seeing a lot of activity around the more elevated parts of the refuge.

“We’ve got quite a few guys coming right now,” Swanson said. “The season goes through the end of this month. Some of them use dogs and some don’t, but there’s a lot of interest overall. Generally, the rabbits are usually found on the hills or along the water lines.”

The flooding has been a result in the rise of waters in the Mississippi River, which affected all but about 3,000 acres of refuge land. Strader said the water levels have risen and fallen over the past few months due to the rising and dropping of temperatures.

“It went way down, now it’s coming back up,” Strader said. “It came down to about 31 1/2 feet during the cold snap. I think what happened was, everything froze — the lakes, rivers and everything — so when the weather got warm, everything melted, and it rose.”

And continue to rise it will. Swanson said forecasts from NOAA and the Army Corps of Engineers project the river levels on Monday and Tuesday to be as high as they were when the refuge shut down gun hunts.

“On Nov. 12, it was up to 48 1/2 feet,” Swanson said. “That’s what it will be at Monday and Tuesday. We can look at forecasts from up to 28 days in advance, but the more reliable ones fall within a week.”

Strader added that relief likely wouldn’t come until after all the hunting seasons are over.

“I don’t think there’s much hope during hunting season,” Strader said. “It might be July before it goes down, but it’ll go down. In fact, we expect it to go down about June or July.”

Strader said not having hunters around was not the most disappointing thing about the floods, however. A duck energy day is the term used to refer to the amount of food it takes for a duck to support itself for a day, and the refuge spent all summer trying to plant plenty of food for the ducks for the winter.

“We grew six million duck energy days worth of food, only to see it go underwater,” Strader said. “We have mallards, or ‘dabbling ducks’ here, which don’t dive to eat, but just stick their necks down in the water.

“If the food is 10 feet underwater, though, there’s not much they can do. When you’re out there fighting sweat, snakes and mosquitoes, only to see it all sink, that’s probably the most disappointing thing for me.”

That’s all behind them now, though, as the refuge is looking forward to hosting a youth turkey hunt in the next few weeks.

“The deadline for applications is Feb. 27,” Swanson said. “It’s for ages 10-15, and we’re looking to have nine two-day periods (of youth turkey hunts).”