“It will be interesting to see what happens now,” says Chafa. “We get to watch nature unfold.” Deer and turkeys are literally making tracks back to their old stomping grounds in the floodplain.
It is the human effects that are most highlighted by the flood’s impact on the natural landscape. “Under normal conditions the floodplain is heavily cropped,” says Pearson. “It’s a uniform habitat, planted annually, flat, and treated with herbicides that are not friendly to wild plants.”
The flooding creates a natural cleansing effect. “Human infrastructure is not meant to withstand flooding,” continues Pearson, “but natural ecosystems have been around for thousands of years. The river used to flood frequently, and whatever lives there has adapted to flooding.
“In the short term it changed the habitat,” he continues, “but it will gradually return to its former condition.”
Chafa adds there was a heavy toll on the reproductive cycle, with many young animals not surviving when adults did. But that, too, will correct itself in time.
Some species, such as deer, will find added protection from hunters in the fallen trees and tangled brush the floodwaters left behind.
Because of the water, the floodplain is now ripe for rare plant species, insects, and invertebrates, and that abundance will reverberate up the food chain. “We will likely see an increase in predators the next couple of seasons because of the increased concentration of prey,” says Graeve.
New willows and cottonwoods will reforest the woodlands. That will bring a resurgence of woodcocks — a species of concern in normal times — living among the young trees.
Different songbirds will sing from their growing branches. It’s all part of the give-and-take of nature.
“Floods are devastating to people and cities and farmland but not to natural habitat,” adds Pearson. “This is a turn of the page for wildlife.”
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