IDABEL, Okla. (KFOR) – Ebb and flow, that’s what water does in the wetlands of Southeast Oklahoma and that’s how history has treated them too.
Up until the late 1960’s, Red Slough was 8 square miles of swamp near the border between Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana.
“When they turned it over to agriculture, That’s when it changed,” says Biologist Chance Phillips.
Landowners drained it all off and planted rice, soybeans, and corn for more than 20 years before a cooperative effort between federal and state conservation groups started turning it back to something like it was.
“So there’s always been water here” asks a first-time visitor?
“Yes,” says Phillips. “The Red River is right over there so we always have a lot of water, sometimes that’s the hard part about managing this area.”
He told us he’s seen the area in flood and in drought.
“I’ve seen it to where you couldn’t park in the parking lots,” he smiles. “That’s usually on the 100-year floods.”
For the first time in 8 years there is less water here which gives his crews a chance to plant a few trees and fix the levees that direct water where he needs it to go.
“We were able to repair some leevies and remove some tree encroachment,” he says.
Low water makes it a little easier for Phillips and David Arbor to check on some of the alligator nests here as well.
In mid-winter they keep cameras on the alligators them to check their habits.
Sometimes they can even get their hands in the water to feel for them to see if they’re still in the dens.
Phillips says, “They’ve adapted. It’s been an interesting year. It really has.”
The Dwarf Palmettos are the only green thing in the water for now.
In spring these wetlands come alive with more than 300 bird species, nearly 90 different types of butterflies, and a thousand more plant species, many not seen anywhere else in Oklahoma.
It might never be exactly like it was before, but the wetlands here now, close to 8,000 acres of them, are still like no other.
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