• Endangered shorebirds unlikely to return to Missouri River

    By Cara McClain, Emma Nicols and Taylor Nakagawa

    COLUMBIA — The damage from the 2011 flood of the Missouri River resulted in $1.3 billion in damage, and some rare birds’ habitats have yet to fully recover three years later.

    The flood occurred as a result of an increased amount of rainfall in conjunction with a surplus of melted snow in the upper regions of the 2,341-mile long river. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a record-breaking amount of excess water downstream to avoid overflowing reservoirs and collapsing levees. The amount of water released was more than double the previous highest record from 1997.

    This overflow from the Missouri River, the longest river in North America, devastated farmland and property in seven different states from Montana to Missouri.

    The damage to residential and commercial land was a disaster, but the shorebird population actually benefitted from the flood, according to Wedge Watkins of the Big Muddy Wildlife Refuge in Columbia. The destruction paved the way for more sandbanks, which the shorebirds claim as their habitat.

    Shorebirds are one of the most threatened North American birds, according to the 2014 The State of the Birds Report published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The least tern, an endangered shorebird, relies on the even distribution of sediment, but the abnormally high river levels erode sediment along the banks of the river.

    David Ericwood, who led a bird watching event at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area in Columbia, said that he has not seen many shorebirds this year.

    “Shorebirds need shallow water for wading,” Ericwood said. “The water was just way too high for them today.”

    Sediment erosion is a long-term concern regarding the river’s environment. Sand moves down the river in waves when it floods according to Jane Ledwin, a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service in Columbia.

    “It’s a huge concern for us,” Ledwin said. “If there isn’t a sediment supply that feeds those habitats, in 50 to 70 years that material will just disappear.”

    Ledwin said there are efforts to restore the sediment availability upstream where most terns nest. But in Missouri, it is unlikely these birds will have a habitat in the years to come.

    This ThingLink provides a map of the least tern and piping plover migrations routes, and in addition, red pinpoints mark each of the six main stem dams of the Missouri River. Click on the interactive tags to view a series of extra information on both the birds and the 2011 flood of the Missouri River.

    ----------Posted on October 3, 2014 by in Student Work

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