Tugging wooden boards out of the thick mud below a dam at the end of the Humboldt Sink was a welcome task for NDOW Wildlife Area Supervisor II Isaac Metcalf. The boards may not have been removed for years due to little or no water in the Humboldt Wildlife Management Area.
After releasing water from the dam, Metcalf stopped his truck to admire Lower Humboldt Lake. About an hour or so earlier, irrigation district officials asked him to pull all the boards to help prevent flooding of upstream farmland. Metcalfe cheerfully complied since there’s plenty of water this year for Lovelock Valley farmers as well as birds and wildlife in the Humboldt Sink.
“I just like looking at how big it is,” he said of the lake view. “It goes way out there. It’s huge! The wetland is looking really good. The sago pondweed and nutgrass are growing real good.”
It was a good time to open the dam to protect the farms and to promote the growth of the feed for resident and migrating ducks, geese and other birds. The wetland will be just right- not too deep and too shallow- for alkali bullrush, known as nutgrass, and sago pondweed to thrive.
Instead of growing feed for cows like farmers upstream, Metcalf is growing feed for waterfowl.
“Right now is going to be good because it’s already been wet,” Metcalf said. “We started getting sago and alkali bullrush growth. This is kind of like what the farmers do. It’s going to irrigate it. As we let water out, more sun will get to the sago and it will grow better. Once the water goes back up again, it will follow that water level. The timing is perfect for this vegetation to grow.”
The Humboldt Sink is “an important part of the Pacific Flyway” as it provides a rest stop and feed for birds migrating north in the spring and south in the fall. When there’s water, the Humboldt Wildlife Management Area also attracts bird watchers and duck hunters, Metcalf said.
“The tundra swans are coming from Alaska,” he said. “It’s a stopover for the migratory birds as they head to the Central Valley and probably into Mexico. It’s for all types of birds that use the wetlands- waterfowl, shore birds, diving ducks and other birds associated with wetlands.”
Water is flowing better in the Toulon Drain after a cooperative weed control project by the Pershing County Water Conservation District and NDOW. Along with the Union Canal and other drain ditches, the Toulon Drain carries farm runoff and excess irrigation water to the Humboldt Sink and Toulon Lake. That benefits the irrigation district and the wildlife management area.
“This last year, we’ve sprayed more than 13 miles of ditch working together. It was nice,” Metcalf said. “Those guys know this area so I rely heavily on them for what’s coming as well as suggestions and recommendations, for sure. The way we sprayed it ought to keep the weeds down for a while and then, after we burn, it should be good to go for a few years anyway.”
When the Humboldt River flow decreases and the lakes start to drop, Metcalf will replace the boards to maintain the wetland for the fall bird migration and the October duck hunting season.
“I’ve got to make sure I don’t overdo it when they start slowing down on runoff,” he said. “I’ve got to make sure I have enough water for the birds that are coming in the fall and to keep it full into the spring. They said for 50 days, we’d be getting over a thousand cfs (cubic feet per second) but it’s always about constant monitoring. You never know how long the rain is going to keep on coming. It’s all up to what the environment is doing from here all the way up to Elko.”
After years of low water, this year will be a good one for both duck hunters and bird watchers. Metcalf said he’s seen a few groups of birders camped out in the wildlife management area.
“That upper end looks really good with nice vegetation growing. I’m excited,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, we should have a pretty good year on both sides- Toulon and Humboldt.”