Jul 26, 2008

Toxic Reservoir at Hailstone NWR in Montana

In this blog entry, I continue my series of posts about the refuges that were included in the “Refuges at Risk” report that was put out by the Defenders of Wildlife in late 2007, and which highlights the ten most endangered national wildlife refuges.

salt-encrusted teal at Hailstone NWRHailstone National Wildlife Refuge, in central Montana, is a 2,000-acre refuge that hosts more than 200 species of birds that are drawn to Hailstone Lake — the 300-acre refuge reservoir that was created in the 1930s.

Hailstone is the major hub in central Montana for waterfowl production, but the Defenders of Wildlife have listed Hailstone NWR as an endangered refuge because runoff from surrounding agricultural fields has carried heavy amounts of salts and minerals into Hailstone Lake, which has slowly turned the reservoir into a toxic soup that is killing wildlife.

More native prairie around the lake would help reduce the amount of excess salt and selenium that makes its way into the reservoir, but native prairie is a rare thing these days, and much of the land around the refuge is still being used for agriculture.

Roger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, explains:

“Hailstone National Wildlife Refuge has been a safe haven for hundreds of species of birds for decades. But the refuge boundary line could not protect this one-time haven from toxic agricultural runoff, causing birds and other wildlife to literally drop dead from excessive salt intake. To protect the environmental health of Hailstone and other refuges, the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to look beyond the refuge boundary signs and work with its partners and surrounding landowners to comprehensively protect wildlife and habitat across the landscape.”

Roger Smith, Ducks Unlimited’s director of conservation services for the Great Plains Regional Office, also weighs in:

“Hailstone National Wildlife Refuge is a very important breeding area for waterfowl. But the salt and selenium have really degraded this vital habitat. The long-term health of Hailstone is now dependent on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s ability to manage water quality and levels there.”

The Defenders’ “Refuges at Risk” publication points out that there are similar agricultural contamination issues at other refuges in the prairie region, and all of these refuges are of vital importance to the productivity and health of bird species that populate the Mississippi Flyway.

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