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Derecho's effect on wildlife minimal

West Virginia's June 29 derecho windstorm inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of people, but its effects on fishing and hunting weren't nearly as dramatic.

"A few animals might have been killed when limbs or trees fell on them, but by and large deer and bears and other creatures should have made it through the storm just fine," said Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources.

"The heat wouldn't have bothered the animals either. It might have made them uncomfortable, but through evolution animals have learned to adapt to all sorts of meteorological conditions."

Johansen said people should be more worried about fish in the state's small streams, most of which are enduring critically low water levels and record-breaking heat.

"Again, though, the fish have survived similar conditions in the past, and I expect they'll survive the conditions they're experiencing now," he added

The derecho's biggest impacts were to the DNR's infrastructure. Many of the agency's wildlife management areas suffered significant tree damage.

"We had a lot of trees down, blocking roads and blocking trails," Johansen said. "It affected access to some of our facilities and to our WMAs. In some cases the tree damage was pretty extensive. The cleanup is going to take quite a while."

If there's a silver lining to the damage, it will occur when new trees begin to appear in clearings where large trees fell.

"Wildlife really like 'early successional' habitat, the tender young growth that occurs after trees fall or are cut," Johansen explained. "It's natural for forests to regenerate when trees are broken or tipped over. Fallen trees are a disturbance on the landscape, but animals adjust very quickly to the disturbance, and when the new growth comes in it actually attracts wildlife."

The most significant impacts weren't to fish or wildlife themselves, but to infrastructure the DNR has put in place to manage them. State fish hatcheries, for example, all suffered power outages and operated on generator power until electrical service was restored.

The outage very nearly caused a major trout kill at the Reeds Creek Hatchery in Pendleton County. The facility's generator failed at 9:30 p.m. on July 4, and employees worked through the night to keep it limping along enough to keep an estimated 300,000 trout alive.

When it finally failed at 7:30 a.m. the following day, DNR officials appealed to the Governor's Office, the state Office of Emergency Services and the Pendleton County Office of Emergency Services.

Crews from Mon Power came on the run and got power restored at 11 a.m., just as trout started to turn belly-up. In all, only an estimated 200 to 300 fish died.

Johansen said a few buildings and maintenance sheds were damaged by wind or fallen trees, but not severely so.

"At one of the hatchery residences, a chimney got blown off the house. Other than that, the damage to structures was light," he said.

DNR officials were particularly happy that the West Virginia Wildlife Center at French Creek survived the storm as well as it did.

"It sits up on a ridge, and there are some very large trees on the property," Johansen said. "The storm had a very significant impact on most of Upshur County, but the Wildlife Center's exhibit facilities escaped relatively unscathed. There were a lot of downed trees, but the trees didn't cause much damage to the wildlife pens."

All in all, Johansen believes the DNR came through the storm in remarkably good shape.

"Considering the seriousness of the event itself, we were pretty fortunate," he said.


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