Michael Pearce

Changes abound on outdoor landscape

The year that's almost gone leaves behind some changes and memories to be remembered.

Here are what I consider the top 10 Kansas outdoors stories for 2009.

Pheasant and quail numbers rise — Timely spring and summer rains brought ideal hatching and brood-rearing conditions to much of Kansas. In some places, pheasant populations matched those of the glorious early 1980s.

Loss of inmate labor — Because of budget cuts, the Kansas Department of Corrections closed most of their rural honor camps. Doing so took thousands of hours of inmate labor away from many state parks and numerous towns and counties. Cross Timbers and Fall River state parks lost the equivalent of 12 full-time employees.

More bald eagles nesting in Kansas — Early in 2009, it was estimated that Kansas now had about 30 active bald eagle nests, including up to six along the Arkansas River between Wichita and Oklahoma.

Recently a pair of eagles working on a nest near Twin Lakes Mall in Wichita has given locals a good look at one of America's most popular birds.

Non-resident deer permit increase — The offering of more than 21,000 permits was a big increase over last year and about double what was offered in 2004. Increased visitor permits greatly increases competition for hunting spots on private and public lands. There's also concern about the impact on the trophy quality of Kansas bucks.

Conservation Reserve Program losses — A change in federal farm bill policy leads to thousands of acres of CRP grasslands being taken from the program and converted to crop or grazing lands. More losses are coming. CRP has been called the greatest wildlife habitat program in U.S. history. It's had a huge impact on central and western Kansas deer, gamebird and non-gamebird populations. The continued loss of CRP lands could mean we've seen "the good ol' days" of Kansas wildlife.

Zebra mussels spread —The discovery of zebra mussels in Wilson and Milford lakes brings the invasive species to another part of Kansas. It also proves how poorly Kansas boaters and anglers are at following the simple steps of preventing the spread. They're now found in eight lakes and corresponding rivers and streams.

Whopper fall for whoopers — The more than 100 whooping cranes documented on and near the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge beat the old record by about 40 birds. The birds were in sizable flocks and easily found by wildlife watchers for about a month. Their presence closed the marsh to hunting through the best part of waterfowl seasons.

Cheney Lake comeback — After about a decade of having gamefish populations hammered by invasive white perch, Cheney Lake is back to being a great fishery. Restrictive limits on predatory fish, changes in fish stocking techniques and a huge perch die-off are credited for giving Cheney some of the top walleye, wiper and white bass populations in Kansas.

White perch in El Dorado Lake — The discovery of a reproducing white perch population in El Dorado Lake has biologists scrambling to find ways to keep the lake from suffering the same problems Cheney Lake endured for years.

Kansas Wetlands Education Center — The opening of the educational center at the edge of the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area provides the public an easy way to learn about Kansas' world-class wetlands. Hopefully it will help generate more interest in Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira among Kansans.