burn

Idaho Fish and Game conducts a controlled burn at Market Lake this past spring to remove vegetation and open up more water for migrating birds.

It’s a good-news/bad-news situation for waterfowl hunters at Market Lake Wildlife Management Area this fall.

The 2021 drought is dropping water levels at Market Lake near Roberts about 20 miles north of Idaho Falls and making it difficult to launch a motorboat in any of the waters.

"Drought conditions have resulted in lower than expected water levels in the marshes at Market Lake,” said James Brower, regional communications manager with Idaho Fish and Game in a news release. “Waterfowl hunters will find conditions to be similar to the 2020 season with limited boat access but an abundance of ducks and geese.”

Although boaters may find the conditions annoying, waterfowl will still find the management area attractive and should flock to Market Lake in large numbers.

Fish and Game said lower waters levels give the birds access to an abundance of food resources. More food means more ducks. Hunters, though, may have to wade or walk in to reach the birds.

“A little pre-season scouting will go a long way toward improving your success," said Fish and Game habitat biologist Brett Gullett. "The birds will be there but a little leg work will be the best way to reach them."

This past spring, Fish and Game conducted a series of prescribed burns at Market Lake to improve the area’s productivity. The department also sprayed and killed close to 160 acres of cattails over the past three years in the Main, Triangle, and East Springs marshes.

Fish and Game said without the fires, the wetlands will close in with cattails and other vegetation and limit productivity. The management area is working to obtain a 50-50 split of cattail/bulrush to open water and “set the marshes back to early successional stages that are more productive.”

“Birds now have more areas to land and forage on aquatic vegetation and insects,” Fish and Game said. “The burn has improved access for hunters as well, creating pathways into areas that may have been previously inaccessible.”

Fish and Game said hunters should not forget about the northern agricultural fields that have been regularly flooded leading up to the beginning of the waterfowl season. The field flooding is meant to attract ducks and provide additional hunting opportunities.

The Market Lake Wildlife Management Area attracts up to 19,000 visitors a year who come to hunt, view wildlife, or join tour groups. An observational blind sits on the west side of Interstate 15 in the area for individuals and groups to observe birds at an adjacent pond.

The main purpose of Market Lake is as a stopover habitat for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds. In addition to migration, many species nest at Market Lake. Trumpeter swans nest in the marshes and food plots support many during the winter. Market Lake also provides habitat for 250 wildlife species, from small mammals to moose.

The original Market Lake was a 12-square-mile flood plain adjacent to the Snake River. Only 30 acres of the original wetlands remained in 1956 when federal dollars from the Pittman-Robertson Act were used to purchase the first parcel and establish the Market Lake Wildlife Management Area. Over the years, additional purchases have helped restore nearly 33% of the original flood plain to waterfowl habitat, according to Fish and Game.

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