Spillway wildlife may move into neighborhoods

Residents could see increase of snakes, mice

Those living near the Bonnet Carré Spillway might see a stream of animals headed their way as spillway wildlife flee the newly flooded areas.

The spillway was opened on April 11 for the first time since 1997. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers originally opened 84 bays, but pried apart 31 more recently because of the Mississippi River’s rising water levels. Now, water is rapidly emptying into Lake Pontchartrain, forcing many animals from their spillway home.

“I’m sure that the deer pushed right out and the smaller game is also seeking higher ground,” Scott Durham, deer program manager with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department, said. “Most of the wildlife in the area was able to get a head start because they just always seem to have a knowledge of what’s coming.”

And while there are some forested areas near the spillway, things have changed a great deal since 1997. Today, many people in Norco and LaPlace live in neighborhoods that border the area.

“For the most part, the wildlife will filter out through the habitat into forested land,” Durham said. “They are going to do what they have to do to survive, even if that means going into someone’s yard.”

Former councilman Lance Marino, who lives in Norco, had a similar experience the last time the spillway opened.

“I caught eight snakes during the season the last time the spillway was opened,” Marino said. “I’m not a big fan of snakes, but I know they are good for the environment so I caught them and put them back into the spillway.”

Snakes are just one of the many animals that call the spillway home. Deer, rabbits, nutria, rats, mink, coyotes and raccoons will all be looking for a safe place to hide for the next month.

And even though it’s probable that some of those animals drowned during the opening, Durham says the majority probably escaped in time.

“Wildlife is generally not the highest priority when you are dealing with an emergency,” Durham said. “Still, there is a good amount of forested wetlands on both sides so I doubt that you had a huge mortality rate.”

In evidence of wildlife’s survival instincts, Durham points to Hurricane Katrina.

“Animals just have a way of finding cover,” he said. “After Katrina, we counted 40 deer in this one area, and that rivaled the amount of deer we had seen in that same area before it hit.”

Plus, a lot of the wildlife will be able to shrug off the opening and return full force when it closes.

“Rabbits and mice are highly reproductive, so they really won’t miss a lick,” Durham said.

The spillway is a flood control operation that allows floodwaters from the Mississippi River to flow into Lake Pontchartrain and then into the Gulf of Mexico. The corps has said that the spillway will likely remain open for two weeks to a month.

That all depends on how much rain the area experiences during that time.


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