Catawba Creates Habitat for Waterfowl

04/05/99 by Staff Writer

From the the April 5, 1999, issue of the Salisbury Post

Two wood ducks suddenly burst from the water’s surface, flying up and out of the wooded swamp. Without changing their rhythm, the chorus of frogs continues as geese honk somewhere in the distance.

Catawba College students Jenni Reaves and Ben Prater step into the amber water of a long-ago created agricultural drainage canal in an effort to improve the birds’ habitat.

Reaves, a junior from Greensboro, and Prater, a freshman from Pacolet, S.C., remove boards that hold water back in a small dam. The water rushes through the opening, beginning its journey to the Yadkin Pee-Dee watershed, where it will pass slowly through Winyah Bay near Georgetown, S.C., and finally enter the Atlantic Ocean.

The water was impounded months ago to enhance wildlife habitat in the already diverse 189-acre Catawba Ecological Preserve. More than 150 species of birds have been observed in the preserve, as have amphibians and reptiles.

The purpose of the latest project is to create additional habitat for species associated with wetlands, according to Dr. John Wear Jr., director of the Catawba Center for the Environment.

“We are reclaiming habitat that was once a wetland but at some time in the last hundred years was converted to agricultural land,” he says. “We have converted about 23 acres back to wetland.”

The impoundment allows the water level to increase slowly, beginning in October, until it reaches a maximum depth of eight-to-18 inches.

Wear explains the reasons for draining the area. One is to expose invertebrates for the birds.

“This is important because the waterfowl are breeding and nesting now,” Wear says, “and they need this rich source of protein.”

Another reason is to allow vegetation such as smartweed to grow over the summer. In addition, flooded woodlands need the soil to dry out so the roots can be aerated during the growing season.

“One additional benefit of a management plan like this is that we should not see an increase in the mosquito population in these areas during the months when they are usually active,” Wear says.

Center for the Environment faculty, staff and students and professionals from the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have worked on the planning and implementation of the new wildlife habitat. The college is currently working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create a course in wildlife management that will use this area and others as a laboratory.

Funding for the project was provided by North Carolina Partners and Fred and Alice Stanback.

Management of wetland areas is important, Wear says. “With so much of our wetland areas drained for development and agriculture, it is vitally important to look for ways to manage and create habitat for species that depend on these areas.”

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