Boom and doom.
The effects of the heat and drought on the state’s wildlife and outdoor recreation could be described as both good news and bad.
It depends if you’re a fish out of water or the big bird getting an easy meal because the fish had bad luck.
With rivers drying up, fish are suffering. Nebraska Game and Parks crews have verified at least several dead pallid sturgeon, an endangered fish, said Daryl Bauer, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission fisheries outreach program manager.
Hot and dry conditions also have contributed to an earlier and perhaps more widespread outbreak of a virus -- epizootic hemorrhagic disease -- that kills deer. A biting insect spreads it.
In the two previous years, not as many deer have been infected, so many don’t have immunity to the virus, said Bruce Trindle, Game and Parks wildlife disease program manager.
People have reported a number of dead deer, especially along the Platte River, Trindle said. They seek out water because of a high fever.
Fish are not faring much better. From west of Kearney to Columbus, there essentially is no Platte River, Bauer said.
“You may find a little trickle in some stretches of that, but nothing to support fish,” Bauer said.
The fish either moved out or died several weeks ago, he said.
Even the water coming into the Lower Platte from the Lower Loup and Elkhorn is minimal, he said.
Eventually, the fish will come back, Bauer said.
“It’s not like we haven’t been through this before,” he said. “I mean, I hate to see it anytime, absolutely. But when the water’s back, we’ll have fish back.”
The state’s reservoirs also are going down.
“I’m not in panic mode yet, but I’m sure hoping this doesn’t stretch out for a few years like it did just a few years ago,” he said.
It’s the Great Plains. It’s been wet and it’s been dry and it will be again, Bauer said.
“So Husker up, we’ll get through it.”
There’s going to be tradeoffs for the bird population in Nebraska with the heat and dryness, said Joel Jorgensen, non-game bird program manager. Some species will benefit. It won’t be good for some others.
The mountain plover, which breeds in the Nebraska Panhandle, reproduces well in drought conditions. Cold, wet weather is not good breeding weather for a lot of bird species, he said.
“We’re seeing some birds move around a little bit that maybe we don’t see as much in other years,” he said.
Yellow crowned night herons, a southeastern breeder, have moved up from Missouri and other southeast states, looking for foraging opportunities in drying wetlands.
If the drought continues long term, there may be more consequences, Jorgensen said.
If there’s not water in the Platte River for the Sandhills cranes to roost next spring, that will be a problem, he said.
“I don’t know how those birds will respond,” he said.
The need for emergency haying and grazing for livestock on conservation grasslands has concerned some because of its effect on the habitat of birds and small mammals.
Ritch Nelson, wildlife biologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said guidelines have been developed in consultation with conservation groups to minimize the harm.
“In a year like this, everything gets stressed because conditions aren’t normal,” Nelson said.
When habitat is disturbed, it’s going to have results.
“We just hope to minimize those impacts to the best we can,” he said, “and balance those needs with … the humanistic side of it and economics.”
On the good news side, this year’s long warm season has been great for the state’s parks, said Kirk Nelson, west region parks manager.
“It’s an amazing year,” he said. “This year the sun came out and it warmed up in March, and everybody came out.”
It translated to big numbers and big weekends early on at the parks, especially in the east. It was one of the best Memorial Day weekends ever.
As the heat came on in July, the tent campers and people who like to rough it dropped off, but the pop-up camper and RVs have remained steady.
“Water-based recreation has been the name of the game after the heat started,” Nelson said.
Calamus reservoir campground has been full every weekend.
“McConaughy, they’ve been ringing that lake. Denverites, Coloradoans have been showing up in huge numbers,” he said.
The lake may be down some, but it started brim full, so it’s still at 60 percent, he said.
“We’re going to have a heck of a year. It’s going to be a barn burner,” he said.