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Lifescape: Ruin and Renewal

The Missouri River floodwaters
set a new stage for flora and fauna 

By Terri Queck-Matzie, photos courtesy of the Iowa DNR

To the naked eye, the flood-ravaged Missouri River basin is a barren wasteland. The absence of color is omnipresent.

Silt paints an overwhelming hue of pale gray across the landscape while sand blows with the wind, filling every crevice and drifting into dunes. The ground sifts through your fingertips, lifeless. Dead tree limbs dot the once-fertile fields.

There is not an animal to be seen.

“We don’t have a rodent problem any more,” says Lyle McIntosh from his farm west of Loveland. He tells of deer living atop levees during nearly four months of floodwaters that covered tens of thousands of acres in western Iowa.

Doug Chafa, a wildlife biologist with the Missouri River Wildlife Management Unit of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, remembers deer swimming from sandbar to sandbar when floodwaters were at their peak.

Those deer have since moved on to higher ground. “The numbers in the Loess Hills have increased dramatically,” says Chad Graeve, a Nature Resource Specialist with Pottawattamie County Conservation, “as have the numbers of smaller mammals.” Coyotes, groundhogs, opossums, and raccoons exited parade style to the nearby hills, leaving behind nests of young and familiar feeding grounds.

“Keep in mind,” adds Graeve, “unlike some species that require a specific type of high-quality habitat, generalist species, such as whitetail deer and raccoons, easily adapt. They’ve been adapting to the patchy landscape we humans have created for a very long time.”

Smaller bedding animals such as skunks, and the even smaller rodents, mice and moles, did not fare so well. And the exodus of land animals also meant a change of address for predators. Owls and hawks found food in the floodplain was scarce if existent at all.

(Read more about Ruin and Renewal)

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