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Wetland Drawdown Timing

Author: Jody Graff

May 30, 2018

The question, “when should I draw the water down on my wetland?” is one I consistently hear from private landowners, duck club owners, and property managers in north Missouri.  

It is not easy to answer without knowing the current condition of the site as wetlands vary in successional stages and plant types, which are key indicators of what your management approach should be.  Choosing the right strategy will encourage moist soil production and increase the potential duck-use-days on your favorite hunting spot. To help provide some direction, we will break down a couple common scenarios in moist soil water level management and discuss a couple of techniques used to get the most out of your property.

Scenario #1
In this example, imagine a wetland pool that has not been drawn down or cared for, perhaps for several years.  Pools that have late successional plant communities or an abundance of emergent vegetation such as cattails, river bulrush, spikerush, lotus, primrose, water plantain, various perineal smartweeds, and dense sedges, need help. A drawdown early in the growing season prevents the undesirable species from getting worse.  Wetland tracts in this condition need a soil disturbance, such as discing, fire, mowing, or chemical application, to reset succession and encourage more prolific annual moist soil plants like wild millet, barnyard grass, Pennsylvania smartweed, and yellow nutsedge. Getting the water off early gives you more time to roll your sleeves up and put in the sweat equity that’s required to start making improvements.  

Discing is perhaps the most valuable management tactic for pools overrun with late successional and emergent vegetation.  Discing pools in a three-year rotation – 1/3 of the pool annually – will encourage early successional plants stored in the seed bank to germinate, providing more food for migrating waterfowl. Sometimes it takes several passes with a disc to get the ground broken up and worked back down to firm up the soil.  

Scenario #2
Wetlands that have been actively managed and have had soil disturbances in prior years will benefit from a mid-season drawdown. This can range from late April through July.  The keys to determining the day you start pulling boards rely on trending temperatures and the presence of emergent vegetation. Exposing mudflats to warmer temperatures (80’s and 90’s) later in the growing season will increase the response from millet and smartweed, which can produce 2000+ pounds of food per acre.

Delaying the start of your drawdown is ideal, but it’s important to be mindful of the negative effects of waiting too long. Undesirable vegetation can get a foothold if given the time and conditions; when you notice emergent vegetation beginning to green up in the water, it’s time to start pulling boards.  Weather patterns and water levels vary wildly year-to-year, so frequently scouting your property becomes vitally important to effectively timing the drawdown.

As waterfowlers, much of our success (or lack thereof) hinges on the cooperation of the weather. While we never know which hand we’ll be dealt, strategically manipulating a drawdown is a vital key to providing high quality habitat. Being prepared and knowing when the time is right will help stack the deck in your favor this fall. Regardless of skill level, we’ll never be able to out-farm Mother Nature. Even the highest yielding food plots can’t replace the diverse nutritional value that managed moist soil habitat provides. Having a strategic management plan in place is one of the most productive and cost-effective ways to improve habitat and hunting success on your farm year after year.