• Airfield flooding affects fish, wildlife

  • Between the harsh winter and heavy spring rains, Sherman Army Airfield was forced to close in mid-March due to flooding, and has only recently been accessible to the public again.

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    Between the harsh winter and heavy spring rains, Sherman Army Airfield was forced to close in mid-March due to flooding, and has only recently been accessible to the public again.
    As the water level continues to lower, the lingering effects of the flooding are visible.
    “It is a habitat disturbance,” said Neil Bass, Directorate of Public Works natural resources specialist. “It is good for some things and bad for other things.”
    Bass said several species and natural resources have been affected including deer, raccoons and other terrestrial species. The flooding has also caused erosion of the road around the Riverside Avenue railroad crossing, and a lot of the grass throughout the airfield has died.
    “That (dead grass) is going to probably be a big bare area that is going to be taken over by invasive species like Johnson grass and teasel, so that is not good for wildlife or for what we need out on the airfield,” Bass said. “It could be expensive to kill and reseed those areas. Even along the levee itself, the grass has been killed and that should be reseeded so rain doesn’t erode the levee.”
    While the flooding has negatively affected several species and areas of the airfield, it has positively affected others, including leopard frogs and several fish species including the invasive Asian species bighead carp and native shortnose gar.
    “Those (carp) are all fish that have been born this year, so they really thrived under this flooding environment,” Bass said. “Gar, they are pretty unphased by the flooding, and they are probably doing well with this huge concentrated food source that they wouldn’t have if it was just out in the river.”
    Not all of the fish have survived; one particular area of the floodplain along the north end of the road is covered with hundreds of dead carp.
    “They died from oxygen depletion,” Bass said. “As the water got lower and it got hotter, it heated up and that hot water contains less oxygen than cold water.”
    However, he said, many fish survived.
    “While there are fish dying here in the floodplain, most of the fish that get up here in the floodplain get off of the floodplain,” Bass said. “They have a lateral line down their body, and that is a receptor for electrical impulses and chemicals, so they can sense things that a human couldn’t sense.
    “Somehow, they know when the water flow changes. They can feel it when it turns the other direction,” he said. “Thousands of fish will perish, but many more will make it off the floodplain.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Other fish species have been spotted in the airfield, too, because of flooding including bluntnose minnows, big mouth buffalo, bluegill and red shiners. Additionally, a spiny softshell turtle was also discovered June 18 by airfield employees Matt Cross and Billy Summers.
    “The spiny softshell was visible because it was sunning on the levee because of the flooding,” Bass said. “They are probably relatively common in the Missouri River, but the flooding has allowed them to expand across the floodplain in search of food.
    “Food is plentiful on the floodplain for aquatic turtles and fish,” he said. “Worms come to the surface as they drown in the flooded soil, insects are trapped and end up in the water, and lots of different vegetation becomes accessible for eating.”
    Spiny softshell turtles were sighted on Fort Leavenworth in 2003 and 2005, Bass said, but this will be the first officially certified one in Leavenworth County with the Kansas Herpetological Society.
    To keep up with other natural discoveries around the floodplain and around post, visit the Fort Leavenworth Nature Facebook page.
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