El Dorado Wildlife Area News

Area News

2014/2015 Hunting Outlook:

Upland Birds:  The fall hunting outlook for quail on the area is fair.  Hunters should see quail numbers that are again increased as compared to last fall.  Quail production in recent years (2007-2010) was believed to have been hampered by heavy rains, cool temperatures, and significant flooding during the critical reproductive months of May, June, and July.  The 2011 and 2012 reproductive seasons however were notably different.  Rather than too much moisture and associated cool temperatures, both years were marked with record breaking excessive heat and drought.  Quail production during those years is believed to have suffered as well.  More moderate weather conditions in 2013 and 2014 are believed to have resulted in improved production, as several coveys were observed or reported early this fall, but current quail populations remain below levels observed during 2005 and 2006 when quail populations were very good.  Within most habitat areas, natural vegetation and area crops should provide good food and cover conditions for wildlife, including quail, and should help to sustain breeding populations into next spring.  The wildlife area lies outside the primary range of ring-necked pheasant.  Hunters occasionally encounter pheasants on the area, but numbers are low.

Waterfowl:  The fall hunting outlook for waterfowl on the area is fair.  Waterfowl populations are reported to remain strong following another good production year within breeding habitats to the north.  Habitat conditions however here are not nearly as strong as those experienced last year.  Abundant precipitation and a slight flood in June kept lake levels full, or nearly so, for much of the summer.  Food producing plants could not become established within dewatered zones at the upper ends of the lake until late this summer.  As such, a thin fringe of food producing vegetation became established along some lake edges, but stands are not nearly as extensive as those witnessed last year.  Late summer and early fall weather was mild and relatively dry, contributing to declining lake levels which has pulled water away from food and cover edges.  Currently, food producing vegetation will not be available to feeding waterfowl without precipitation and increases in lake levels.  Weather will undoubtedly play a part (as it always does) in determining the extent of waterfowl use this year as well.  Hunters are encouraged to visit the area website to view weekly waterfowl population and habitat condition updates.  Hunters are reminded that El Dorado Lake lies within the Southeast Duck Zone. 

Deer:  The fall hunting outlook for deer on the area is fair.  Reports from last season indicated that many hunters saw fewer deer and fewer older bucks.  On the bright side, deer remain relatively common on the wildlife area, but observations suggest that populations are reduced and younger deer predominate.  The 2012 EHD outbreak that struck many Midwestern states is believed to have had an impact in Kansas, but deer losses were not as extensive as other nearby states.  Frequent and large reports of die-offs were lacking within the county and on the wildlife area in that year and conditions have not been conducive for additional outbreaks of this disease since 2012.  Antlerless deer and fawns were a common sight this summer, and reports of a few nice bucks have been received, suggesting that an area breeding population remains strong and will provide hunting opportunity into the future.

Turkey:  The fall hunting outlook for turkey on the area is good.  Area populations remain strong following good production dating back to at least 2012.  Several broods were again observed this summer indicating a moderate level of production on the wildlife area.  Hunters should find good turkey numbers early this season with numbers declining later in the year as some harvest occurs and remaining birds spend more time on nearby private property as a result of hunting pressure.     

Small Game:  Opportunities to hunt fox squirrel and cottontail exist.  Of the two, fox squirrel, typically provide greater opportunity.  With much of the area wooded and with hunting interest in squirrels often low, the area can provide some attractive hunting.  Cottontail populations are often not strong, but can provide some opportunity during most years.   

Furbearers & Coyotes:  The area is open to the hunting and trapping of furbearers .  In most years, good opportunity to harvest beaver and raccoon exists.  Coyote and bobcat populations are generally fair, providing some opportunity.

Year Two of Upland Habitat Planting Plan Completed:

A new 5 year plan designed to provide multiple benefits, including those to enhance water quality, wildlife habitat, and associated recreation was initiated in 2013.  Beginning last year, portions of agricultural lands along 5 lake tributaries will be idled and planted to native grasses and forbs.  These annual planting projects are designed to enhance grassland cover availability in areas dominated by woodland and cropland habitats.  As a result, plantings should enhance habitat diversity within the wildlife area, ultimately enhancing habitat for wildlife species such as quail, turkey, deer, and others, and enhance lake water quality by filtering some run-off from adjacent agricultural lands.  In 2013, six former agricultural tracts were planted totaling approximately 30 acres along Durechen Creek.  Similar efforts were completed in 2014, converting portions of 4 tracts totaling 10 acres along Cole Creek.  Approximately 35 acres are planned to be converted within 3 tracts along the Walnut River in spring 2015.  Additional work will be conducted each spring along each of the primary drainages leading into El Dorado Lake.  By improving habitat, we can enhance wildlife populations and outdoor recreation opportunities such as hunting. 

Disking Project Completed to Enhance Upland Habitats:

KDWPT continues to enhance habitat for upland game birds on the area by periodically light disking some area grassland and retired agricultural tracts.  This management activity is designed to enhance plant diversity on these acres and improve year-round habitat for game birds.  Treated acres are allowed to grow to annual grasses and forbs in an effort to enhance brood-rearing habitat and native plant seed (wildlife food) production.  Recent management treatments have involved disking of 25 acres within 3 retired agricultural tracts.  Additional treatments are being considered for other tracts in coming years.

Hunters Reminded of Recent Changes to Public Lands, Big Game, & Turkey Regulations:

The Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission has recently approved new regulations relating to hunting on public lands, and hunting of big game and turkey.  Designed to provide hunters with equal opportunities on limited public lands, and to simplify equipment regulations for the hunting of big game and turkey statewide, the following regulations have been enacted:  

  • Fall turkey game tags are valid only in Unit 2 (north-central Kansas).  They are NOT valid on Council Grove or El Dorado Wildlife Areas. 
  • Baiting is illegal on public lands. Bait is considered any grain, fruit, vegetable, nut, hay, salt, sorghum, feed, or other food or mineral capable of attracting wildlife. Liquid scents and sprays are not considered bait.
  • Only two portable blinds or tree stands are allowed per hunter on public lands.
  • Portable blinds and tree stands must be marked with the owner’s name and address or KDWPT number. Portable blinds may not be left unattended overnight on public lands.
  • Decoys may not be left unattended overnight on public lands.
  • Commercial guides must have a permit to guide on public lands. The permit is free and must be specific to the land where guiding takes place.
  • Big game hunters can now select any caliber centerfire rifle or handgun, any gauge shotgun with slugs, and any muzzleloader rifle and pistol .40 caliber or larger.
  • Crossbows are now legal equipment during archery seasons for anyone with a valid archery permit.
  • Turkey hunters are no longer restricted to 20 gauge shotguns or larger.  All gauges are allowed, using shot size No. 2 through No. 9. 

Want Current Lake Condition Information?  It’s Just a Click Away!

It can be argued that technology is not always a good thing.  But for outdoor recreationists wanting to know current information about El Dorado Lake, technology can be good because the information is available and can be accessed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by visiting the internet on your computer or smart phone.

For those interested in learning more about current or historic lake levels, precipitation amounts, lake inflow, or lake releases, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates a convenient web site providing this information.  Whether you are an angler interested in lake conditions to determine if it might be right for pursuing your favorite species of fish, or are a boater or camper wondering how lake conditions have been impacted by recent drought or rains, the website can be a valuable trip planning tool.  To access this information simply visit:

http://www.swt-wc.usace.army.mil/ELDR.lakepage.html

Anglers and Boaters Reminded to Take Precautions to Control Aquatic Nuisance Species!

Unfortunately more Kansas waters were recently added to the growing list of those threatened by aquatic nuisance species (ANS).  ANS waters are defined as those containing Asian carp, white perch, or zebra mussels.  In 2013, zebra mussels were found in Clinton and Glen Elder Reservoirs, and in Wabaunsee Lake and Lake Shawnee.

Why are these species a problem?  ANS often become dominant within an area.  They can out-compete native species for food or space and can reduce biological diversity or the assemblage of plants and animals within our native habitats.  Ultimately, ANS species such as zebra mussels, asian carp, and white perch, threaten to alter aquatic habitats, of which our wildlife species depend, including those species sought by anglers in Kansas!

Regulations have recently been enacted to prevent the spread of ANS.  Boaters and anglers are reminded to follow these regulations while visiting Kansas waters.

  1.  Livewells and bilges must be drained and drain plugs removed from all vessels being removed from waters of the state before transport on a public highway. 
  2. No person may possess ANY live fish upon departure from any designated ANS body of water. 
  3. Live baitfish may be caught and used as live bait only within the common drainage where caught.  However, bluegill and green sunfish collected from non-designated ANS waters may be possessed or used as live bait anywhere in the state.  Live baitfish shall not be transported and used above any upstream dam or barrier that prohibits the normal passage of fish.  

For a list of ANS designated waters please refer to the 2014 Kansas Fishing Regulations Summary (page 30) or visit the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism website at www.ksoutdoors.com and click on “Fishing”, then “Aquatic Nuisance Species”.  Other ANS designated waters near El Dorado Reservoir include Cheney, Marion, and  Council Grove Reservoirs, Coffey County Lake, Kingman and Chase State Fishing Lakes, Lake Afton, and Council Grove and Winfield City Lakes.  Streams and rivers below these Kansas lakes are also designated ANS waters. 

To protect our aquatic habitats, follow these simple steps at every lake, wetland, and river, every time: 

CLEAN: Inspect all equipment for anything attached (plants, animals, and mud) andremoveanything that is found. 

DRAIN: Empty all water from equipment (livewell, bilge, bait bucket, etc.) before using at a different location. 

DRY:Dry all equipment for a minimum of 5 days before using it again. If you need to use it sooner, wash with hot (140 degree) water. 

Water Level Planning at El Dorado Lake 

Why let out so much water?  Why leave the lake so full?  Why are they releasing water now?

Questions such as these are often asked of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) and Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism (KDWPT) personnel working at El Dorado Lake.  Answers to such questions are often more complex than many might think.  Water level management planning utilizes the education and experience of many different natural resource professionals including water planners, engineers, park managers, fisheries biologists, and wildlife biologists.  To add to the complexity, they are charged with trying to meet the needs of a tremendously diverse group of resource consumers including landowners, agricultural interests, industry, and municipalities, in addition to an equally diverse group of resource users including recreationists of all types.

The construction of El Dorado Lake was first authorized by the United States Congress in 1965.  Completed in 1981, the project developed a lake comprised of approximately 98 miles of shoreline, and 8,000 surface acres of water.  The lake was constructed to provide flood control, to enhance water supply, to improve water quality, to provide fish and wildlife habitat, and to provide public recreation.  With all of those intended functions, it is a challenge to try to meet the needs of all lake users all of the time.

Flood control functions often take precedence in times of abundant precipitation.  At such times, the COE is charged with managing El Dorado Lake not as a separate entity, but rather as a part or piece of an entire watershed system comprised of many other lakes, and millions of acres of land within several states.  Decisions made to retain or release water at El Dorado Lake may not always appear rational if simply considering local conditions.  COE engineers and area managers must not only consider local conditions when establishing lake levels and water release rates and duration, but those of a much larger area including other lakes, lands, and property downstream.

At many federal reservoirs the impacts of age are becoming more apparent.  Silt deposition in several older Kansas reservoirs, threatens water supplies and other lake functions.  El Dorado Lake will someday face similar threats.  Increasing human populations and diminishing water supplies are a significant concern to water planners, rural water districts, and municipalities.  Water uses to maintain a human population, agriculture, and industry are expected to increase.  Existing water supplies within El Dorado Lake serve communities such as El Dorado and others in Butler County.  Current lake level plans already have “built in” conditions designed to protect the water supply purpose of the lake.  These conditions don’t allow elevated water releases beyond a lower lake level threshold.

Water quality functions are also considered when developing water level management plans at El Dorado Lake.  Sediments are often allowed to settle to the lake bottom after being carried into the lake from flows within area creeks and rivers.  By doing so, sediments and other impairments are “captured” within the lake basin and prevented from being released into the Walnut River below the lake dam.  Downstream water quality is then often enhanced.  Additional downstream water quality needs are also considered by water releases designed to allow a minimum stream flow.  This flow is designed to provide an adequate water supply for downstream use and improve water quality to sustain aquatic and terrestrial wildlife downstream.  Water quality impairments and land losses created from eroding stream banks are of yet another concern.  Release rates and duration can affect stream bank erosion and are considered when developing water release plans.  Responsibility to enhance the quality of water within El Dorado Lake, and thus the waters released from it, ultimately lies with all public and private lake users and land managers.

Lake level management for the benefit of fish and wildlife species alone can be a difficult task.  Because nature is so complex, any action or change in habitat cannot be equally beneficial or harmful to all living things.  Each time the lake level changes, or water is released, some species of fish and wildlife will benefit, others may not be impacted, while others may be harmed.  Fisheries biologists and wildlife biologists are then often tasked with trying to meet the needs of the majority of species, of those most valued by the public, of species of greatest environmental influence, or those most threatened with extinction.  Lake level planning for the benefit of fish and wildlife species at El Dorado Lake currently places significant management emphasis upon game fish species.  Lake level plans consider year round needs of species by managing lake levels and water releases to enhance spawning and brood habitat and enhance recruitment by minimizing losses during high flow events.  Although the lake does provide habitat for many migratory birds, including waterfowl, water level restrictions set forth to insure water supply needs, inhibit KDWPT’s ability to enhance shoreline habitats for the benefit of many such species.  To add yet another dimension of complexity, KDWPT biologists are tasked with evaluating the impacts of zebra mussels upon other fish and wildlife species and whether water level management can serve as a tool to manage invasive species populations.

The recreational function of El Dorado Lake enhances the quality of life of area residents and visitors and significantly boosts the area economy.  As such, this function is also considered when developing lake level plans.  The desires of campers, hunters, anglers, boaters, canoeists, marina operators, and others are considered when formulating plans.  Area management staff must always be mindful of impacts to these users and the impacts of water level management actions upon the infrastructure that is necessary, and in place, to provide these users with opportunities to pursue a favored pastime.

Lake level management decisions do not often come easy.  Those responsible for such decisions do so knowing those actions may well be controversial.  Is it possible to make everyone happy all the time?  Consider again all of the intended purposes of El Dorado Lake and all of those depending upon it for necessity and recreation.  Then tell me…is it possible?