MANILA, Ark. — The massive oil leak off Louisiana’s Gulf Coast has resulted in lower water levels at Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, hundreds of miles to the north.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials who run the 11,000-acre refuge between Blytheville and Paragould in northeast Arkansas have drawn down the water to offer migratory birds an enticing habitat that the officials hope will encourage the birds to stay longer.
A longer stay at Big Lake, wildlife officials say, could keep the birds from flying further south to the Gulf Coast, where they might be harmed by the oil contamination.
In addition to the lower water, the refuge is providing more bird food. On Tuesday, an airplane normally used to seed farmers’ fields or spray fertilizer or pesticide was making passes back and forth over mud flats exposed by the water drawdown, seeding 2,700 acres of the refuge with millet, a grain favored by many birds.
Jeremy Bennett, manager of the refuge, said Big Lake is a good site for the effort because there are no other large bodies of water nearby.
For years, the federal refuge — and a state wildlife management area of equal size, just to the east — have been an important stopover for hundreds of thousands of birds migrating to the Gulf Coast. The effort to make Big Lake more enticing to migratory birds began in July with the lake-level drawdown.
What was once thousands of acres of water is now exposed lake bed, mostly mud.
“We’ve tried to enhance habitat on approximately 6,000 acres … in an attempt to improve the habitat conditions to make it more favorable to hold those birds here longer,” Bennett said. “If the weather cooperates, they’ll come here, and if we have food available for them and if the conditions are right they are going to stay here longer.”
Plans call for normal lake levels to be restored in the fall.