Seasons of a Wetland

Seasons of a Wetland Panel 495x329

 "Nowhere is the intricate relationship between water, wetlands and human survival better illustrated than in the case of the Nile River and ancient Egypt. The cyclical ebb and flow of the river waters determined the fortunes and fate of the powerful civilization that grew in the area and left its weighty marks." Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, 1971) Culture Working Group

Wetland Processes

Image of a Refuge Wetland Image of a Refuge WetlandSeasonal wetlands are the result of many variables and processes: groundwater tables, climate, geology, topography, soil type, glaciation, groundwater movement, irrigation, land use, etc. The climate/hydrology in place at Lee Metcalf NWR was documented by Heitmeyer, Artmann and Frederickson (2010) in the publication: An Evaluation of Ecosystem Restoration and Management Options for Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. Snowpack (melt) from the Bitterroot River drainage (2,500 sq. mile) is a major contributing variable to Refuge hydrology; here are two figures from the Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan highlighting the flood of 1974 and Bitterroot River streamflow measured at Darby (USGS 2010). Many of the wetlands on the Refuge are not seasonal in nature; they are sloughs and oxbows, remnants of the former Bitterroot River channel. Figure 17 (source of this and following Figures or Tables: Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan) illustrates all of the wetlands on the Refuge. Table 5 (Hydrology and Soil Matrix) and Figure 11 (Contour Map of Refuge) tease out why wetlands are located in certain places on the Refuge. Table 4 outlines the Refuge Water Rights that allow for irrigation water usage through wetlands. In absence of this water, what would the vegetation look like on the Refuge; look at Figure 15 for an idea.


Wetland Ecology

Image of wet meadow-Hollingsworth Wetland Project Image of a Refuge OxbowWetland impoundments (manmade wetlands) on the refuge were constructed and developed to provide open-water habitat for migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. As a consequence, the Refuge has become an important refuge for migratory birds during the spring and fall. Waterfowl breeding and brood rearing occurs on Lee Metcalf NWR with a great variety of waterfowl using the refuge for these life history requirements; however, the refuge is not a major production refuge. The most important habitat management efforts will focus on providing optimal habitat for foraging and resting during migration. Lowering the water levels will serve to increase food availability by concentrating foods in smaller areas and at water depths within the foraging range of target wildlife. The rate and timing of drawdowns have important influences on the production and composition of semipermanent wetland plants and invertebrates that provide protein-rich food resources (USFWS 1991) for each of the target bird species.


Wetland Impoundment Target Species Selection Process

Image of Pond 10 from Kenai Nature Trail Image of Pond 5 on RefugeEarly in the Comprehensive Conservation Plan process, the planning team selected three groups of target species (representatives of guilds of species) that support the objectives and strategies described under the habitat goals for the Bitterroot River floodplain, wetland impoundments, and grassland and shrubland habitat. Part of this process was to review three separate documents focused on sustaining or recovering species in Montana: the “Montana Intermountain West Joint Venture Plan,” “Montana State Conservation Plan,” and the “Bitterroot River Subbasin Plan.” An initial list was developed based on whether a species either occurred on the refuge or could occur on the refuge if its preferred habitat was expanded or restored, as indicated under each goal. Almost all of the species selected are recognized in these three documents. The life history needs of over 100 species were examined for similarities and relevance to the proposed goals. The final lists of 16 species were selected based on their ability to represent guilds or because they were good indicators of the quality of a specific habitat type. The habitats that support the migration, foraging, and nesting needs of these selected species should benefit a much broader group of secondary bird species as well as a variety of other wildlife, both migratory and resident. These target species will be monitored for trends in abundance and distribution to evaluate the effectiveness of these actions.