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Wildlife habitat benefits from huge snowpack

MARTIN GRIFFITH
Associated Press

RENO, Nev. (AP) – Important wildlife habitat in the nation’s most arid state will gain a major boost from one of the deepest Sierra snowpacks in 60 years, biologists said.

Wetlands at the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge near Fallon, about 60 miles east of Reno, are expected to increase in size from an annual average of 8,000 acres to as much as 12,000 acres because of high runoff, said Carl Lunderstadt, the refuge’s deputy chief.

The Stillwater marshes are home to roughly 290 bird species and a major stop on the Pacific Flyway for over a quarter million waterfowl annually. The refuge largely depends on water from Lahontan Reservoir on the Carson River, which heads in the Sierra.

“This is going to be our best year since 2006,” Lunderstadt said. “More habitat means more wildlife, more waterfowl production and overall better opportunities for hunting, bird watching and photography.”

Marshes at the nearby state-run Carson Lake and Pasture also will be teaming with more water and birds than usual this year because of the runoff, said Kyle Neill, a biologist for the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

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The refuge has enough water rights to reach its peak of about 9,000 acres of marshes in the fall, but it can run dry in the summer before then with only 1,000 acres of wetlands, he said.

“It’s a huge impact this summer with the snowpack,” Neill said. “We’ll go into the summer months in perfect shape out there and keep things full. We’ll probably be able to maintain about 4,000 acres through July and August this year.”

High runoff from the Truckee and Walker rivers will help raise the levels of Pyramid and Walker lakes, respectively, and boost their fisheries, said Lisa Heki of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Reno.

A huge snowpack usually leads to a couple of strong years for production of Pyramid Lake’s endangered cui-ui fish, she said.

“I expect to see several hundred thousand adult cui-ui migrate from the lake and into the main stem of the Truckee to spawn this year,” said Heki, manager for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Lahontan National Fish Hatchery Complex. “We expect millions of larvae to successfully spawn.”

The snowpack will give Walker Lake a much-needed infusion of fresh water for its threatened fishery, she added. The lake’s increasing salinity due to its declining water level is hurting its Lahontan cutthroat trout and tui chub.

“It’ll give us a little buffer, a little reprieve at Walker Lake,” Heki said. “The snowpack is much needed for both of these terminal lakes.”

California Gov. Jerry Brown last month repealed a statewide drought declaration made in 2008 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after state officials reported the water content in the Sierra snowpack at 165 percent of normal for this time of year.

More than 61 feet of snow has fallen in the Sierra high country so far this season, second only to 1950-51, when 65 feet fell, according to records kept by the California Department of Transportation.


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