The historic flood stages that are approaching Louisiana along the cresting Mississippi River are having a big impact on both the wildlife and wildlife habitat in Louisiana, according to Louisiana wildlife specialists.

“Just as human residents are forced to seek higher ground to escape rising flood waters, animals must do the same,” says Don Reed, LSU AgCenter wildlife specialist, in an article written by the Louisiana Extension Service.

Animal populations that inhabit the Mississippi River basin are accustomed to annual spring floods and such events are part of their life cycle. Thus, areas of higher ground are sought out every year when waters rise and inundate lower areas.

Safety areas

“The record river levels that the Mississippi is experiencing this year, however, will quickly surround many of these higher areas and animals that in a normal high water year would be safe, quickly find their safety areas going under water,” he said, adding. “In these situations, wildlife must often swim long distances to reach higher ground outside the flood plain.”

This high ground is usually along the levees just outside of the flooded area. Some animals that are unable to escape will die due to drowning but the vast majority will find their way to dry ground.

While safe from the rising water, animals will experience many other dangers in their temporary locations.

“Lack of suitable food and cover, along with the stress associated with many animals crowded into small areas are just some of the perils they face,” Reed said.

Increased predation from predators will often occur when predators and prey are forced to occupy small areas of available habitat.

“The public living just outside of these flooded areas should be aware that they will likely encounter a variety of wildlife species around their yards and neighborhoods,” he said.

Most noticeable will be white-tailed deer and possibly even feral hogs and black bears, both of which are more common in Louisiana today than they were in 1973 when the Mississippi last reached such record levels.

Endangered species

Black bears cause an additional level of concern due to the fact that they are listed on the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

“When these animals are encountered, along with any of our smaller species such as raccoons, opossums, bobcats, etc. the proper and safe thing to do for both you and the animal is to walk away and leave them alone. It must be remembered that they have chosen their new location as a matter of survival and not to cause harm to anyone.”

The long-term impact of these record floods will most likely be minimal to the wildlife of the state.

In some species however, short-term impacts could be felt. The spring turkey nesting season will be a failure in areas that went under water during the time that hens were still on the nest incubating a clutch of eggs.

Adult birds would be able to seek higher ground but any re-nesting attempts would most likely be met with minimal success.

“A higher concentration of predators is often pushed into these new areas and habitat conditions for nesting are often less than ideal,” Reed said. “White-tailed deer for the most part are still a month or more away from the peak of their fawning period but the stress associated with pregnant does concentrated along small areas of high ground could likely cause a decrease in fawning success later in the spring.”

Past studies have shown that white-tailed deer along with most other wildlife species will quickly follow the receding waters back towards their original home ranges from which they were displaced.

Depending on the length of time that flood waters remain on the vegetation in the area, there could be a detrimental impact on the understory herbaceous and woody plants. This impact should be of short-term consequences and where sunlight is able to reach the ground, the nutrient-rich waters of the Mississippi should quickly replenish these flooded areas with browse and cover.

“Another safety concern regarding wildlife displaced from rising flood waters comes from poisonous snakes that will be forced from flooded areas and often find refuge near homes and businesses. Extreme care should be taken when handling any debris washed up onto higher ground. Snakes will often take refuge in these debris piles.

A general summary of how to deal with wildlife displaced from high water areas and into neighborhoods and businesses includes the following:

  • Avoid going near any wildlife found stranded in isolated areas. These animals are already stressed from leaving their natural home ranges and forced to concentrate in smaller areas. Any further contact with humans will add to the problem.
  • Exercise caution when driving along areas of high ground where animals are concentrated. The possibility of animal collisions is greatly increased when animals are found adjacent to roadways in greater numbers.
  • Avoid placing feed out for any wild animals that are concentrated in an area. Feeding will only cause the animals to possibly stay in the area after the high water has receded and delay their return to their natural home range.
  • Black bears are a species protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Any encounters with a black bear driven from their natural home range and into populated areas, should be reported to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries by calling the toll free number 1-800-442-2511.
  • The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is the state agency whose mission is to manage the wildlife resources in the state. For problems with any wildlife species that pose a concern to human health or safety, residents should contact one of the following Regional Offices of the LDWF: Baton Rouge 225-765-2800; Hammond 985-543-4777; Monroe 318-343-4044; New Iberia 337-373-0032; Opelousas 337-948-0255 and Pineville 318-487-5885.  
Johnny Morgan writes for the Louisiana AgCenter. Contact: , jmorgan@agcenter.lsu.edu