May 25, 2011
Flooded field. Photo courtesy Bayou Bucks.
Floods and terrorism typically don’t go together, at least not yet.
But the long-term impacts of both are creating problems for farmers and wildlife in the heartland.
As a massive slug of water continues to make its way down the Mississippi River, deer that have been displaced by flooding pose a threat to agricultural interests outside the levee system. With everything in between the levees flooded, deer are crossing the levees, and they often feed on soybean (and other) crops, causing extensive damage.
Flood damage to crops is expected to top $2 billion, according to estimates by John Michael Riley, a professor in the department of agricultural economics at Mississippi State University.
“Crop lost estimates are definitely around $800 million for Mississippi alone,” Riley said in a Huffington Post news story.
Riley estimates another $500 million in losses in Arkansas, and several hundred million more caused by flooding in Louisiana, Missouri and farmland north of Memphis, Tenn.
What many farmers and biologists have yet to get a handle on is the damage caused to the crops that are high and dry by a renewed influx of whitetail deer, raccoons, bears and dozens of other wildlife species that live in the Mississippi River Alluvial Valley.
David Goad, chief of wildlife management for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, estimates that is as many 40,000 to 50,000 whitetail deer are being pushed into the farmlands of Mississippi or Arkansas.
“The deer are going to move when it floods, and we’re seeing that right now," Goad said.
Farmers up and down the Delta are seeing hordes of whitetails move from the woods to the fields, and it’s costing them money and time trying to save their crops from hungry wildlife.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and presumably the state wildlife agencies in Mississippi and Louisiana, have to respond to the farmers that are incurring losses as a result of the displaced deer.
One method is to issue depredation permits to farmers, allowing them to kill the deer, but that means the deer go to waste and won’t be available for hunters to pursue in the fall. A non-lethal method that GF&C used during the 2008 flood was to give specialized fireworks to farmers to scare deer away from their crops.
Those fireworks, which are described as over-sized firecrackers, are built within a cotton-rope that acts like a fuse.
“A farmer can light one and set it to where it goes off every 30 minutes to an hour," Goad said. “They can last about 10 or 12 hours, and then they do it again.”
In 2008, Goad said the state agency bought a truckload of the fireworks and provided them to farmers to use in their fields.
“It works," Goad said. “They are really effective. They are one of our best tools to keep us from issuing depredation permits. We don’t want to do that and neither do the farmers.”
Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security has reclassified the pyrotechnic devices as “explosives” and thus there’s a lot more red tape. A farmer, unless he has a license to handle dynamite, is unable to utilize those devices.
“Right now because we (the G&FC) are licensed, we’re setting these for the farmers," Goad said. “But there’s far too many farmers that need them than we can help.”
Currently, state agencies like the G&FC are contacting their senators, notably Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, to try to get them to either pass legislation or convince DHS to allow agencies to issue the fireworks to farmers. Senate Bill 223 (FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act) is currently in the legislative process with hopes of providing an exemption for farmers.