Groups work to divert waterfowl from Gulf Coast

Concerned that millions of migrating waterfowl this autumn will head straight into the oil-fouled marshes of the Gulf Coast, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its conservation partners are flooding hundreds of acres in Louisiana, east Texas and Mississippi and cultivating additional tons of rice and grains.

It’s hoped the efforts will divert migratory birds onto safe wintering areas, most of which are on national wildlife refuges away from the wetlands affected by the oil spill.

More than 70 species of waterfowl — seabirds, wading birds, shore birds and marsh birds — annually stop along the Gulf of Mexico to rest and refuel before heading south to wintering grounds in Central and South America.

With some birds already starting their fall migration, the massive effort comes none too soon.

However, “never before have we tried to redirect birds on a scale like this,” said Larry Williams, chief of budget performance and workforce for the Refuge System. “It’s unprecedented.”

Will the effort pay off?

“It may help,” said Bob Strader, refuge manager at St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge, across the Mississippi River near Natchez, Miss., as well as nearby Bayou Cocodrie Refuge. “We’ve got to try to do something. This is a pretty good effort. It may keep a few birds from going to the coast and getting in the oil, especially if there are a lot of people moving around there.

“If there’s a disturbance issue, they may come back north,” Strader said. “Or hopefully the shorebirds will be so fat and happy that they’ll keep going to South America and won’t have to stop on the southeast Louisiana coast at all.”


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