The Wild Side for Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012

For those of us who’ve hunted McElroy Swamp for its deer, rabbits, squirrels and ducks, the prospects of facing this year and the next, and the next with many fewer whitetail deer is disheartening at best.

At worst is the prospect that what Hurricane Isaac wrought is what will face us the next however many years we have until our state begins to realize that the land between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, mostly south and east from Ascension Parish to Lake Pontchartrain, is sinking and sinking fast.

If it’s not, then how could a storm like Isaac cause this much habitat destruction over such a broad area. Every one of the Florida Parishes, save East Baton Rouge Parish, had extensive flooding problems. Every parish affected by tides in Lake Maurepas suffered untold ecological damage.

In McElroy Swamp, the water lingered long after it should have: Isaac came in late August and floodwaters south of La. 22 near Sorrento didn’t begin to recede until late September, and are not yet down to pre-Isaac levels.

Although the actions taken by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission to severely reduce deer-hunting days throughout this Maurepas Basin, that, for now, is a one-year bandage on what could be a decades-long wound.

While not to discount all the folks who suffered property damage in the Maurepas Basin, the prospects of long-term habitat degradation calls for something more than a short-term solution when it comes to the prospects of restoring deer and rabbit populations to an area that soaks up tens of thousands of outdoor recreation hours annually between the state’s two major population centers.

Isaac’s storm surge, estimated 5-6 feet in the Maurepas Basin and up to 14 feet south of Lake Pontchartrain and east of the Mississippi River, remained high for an extended period. The combination of those two factors brought an estimate of as much as 90 percent mortality on the young-of-the-year whitetail deer. That means we’ll see no young deer next year throughout this area.

What it means in future years is anyone’s guess, but it’s likely that deer herds throughout the Maurepas Basin will face reduced food sources for the next year, possibly beyond, and that will further reduce near-future recovery prospects for deer and rabbits.

Nutritious food sources lead to more fertile doe deer and that leads to more and healthier fawn production.

It’s likely that plants deer and rabbits use for food, plants that sat underwater for as long as three weeks, will take longer than a year to regenerate enough to supply nutrients to re-energize deer herds to pre-Isaac levels any time soon.

So while deer hunters face reduction of as many as 63 days in Isaac-affected areas this year, it’s a sure bet that these restrictions will be around for at least the 2013-2014 season. And that’s only if another Isaac, or something much worse, doesn’t come calling next summer.