OLIVE BRANCH — Despite rapidly rising waters earlier this month, game populations remain safe in Southern Illinois.
After nearly 13 inches of rain in some places, Southern Illinois’ game animals — turkeys, white tailed deer and the like — will still have strong numbers this fall, according to experts from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Kenneth Delahunt, a wildlife biologist for IDNR working in Union and Alexander Counties, said the waters rose quickly but not so fast animals were not able to flee to higher ground.
Delahunt said the biggest impact this type of flooding could have, short of animals drowning in the floodwaters, is the destruction of habitat. However, because of how quickly the water rose and fell, much of the habitat and food-producing fauna will still be available to keep hunting populations healthy this year.
“You’ll still have all your mast producing trees providing food resources for, say, white tailed deer or turkey,” Delahunt said.
Hunting is nearly a year-round activity for many in Southern Illinois. While not patiently waiting in a tree stand, many are scouting next year’s ideal spot, watching for tracks and cleaning up property to help create the perfect habitat for deer and turkey.
One factor in this planning is agriculture. Deer spend a lot of time scavenging for dropped grain along farm field. Had the flooding severely disrupted planting, this could have given a headache to hunters. But, in Alexander and Union counties — one of the areas hardest hit by this year’s flooding — Delahunt said farmers still have time to bring in a healthy crop. Had this flood occurred in late July or early August, Delahunt said this would be a different story.
“We are still at the early part of the growing season, so farmers are going to be able to replant corn,” he said. “They still have plenty of time to plant soybeans, so all your standard crops are going to be in down there.”
Flooding in Southern Illinois is nothing new and, indeed, is something animals know how to deal with. John Bozett, an IDNR wildlife biologist who works in the Ten-Mile Creek area near McLeansboro, said seeking higher ground is pre-programmed into these animals.
“I guess their behavior is to adapt,” he said.
Again, these flood events are nothing new, but their frequency is. This could change animal behaviors and populations, but not much.
Delahunt said that if flooding frequency increases, some animals may not continue to go as far south as they had. So, after floodwaters recede, animals may not retreat as far from higher ground as they once had.
More than the floodwaters, Bozett said the cold snap after the flooding is one thing that could have a tangible impact on some huntable animal populations. He said it could specifically affect turkey poults.
Trapping animals fared OK, too Delahunt said. Racoons and squirrels were able to move through trees and even swim if need-be. He also said because both animals store food, they were able to get by until the waters came down.
Both Delahunt and Bozett said this could all change should there be a second flood later this year, but that doesn’t appear to be in the forecast, which means hunters should rest easy.