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Eric Morken, Forum News Service, Published September 22 2013

Plants are back on Lake Christina. Will the waterfowl follow?

ASHBY, Minn. – It’s been almost 20 years since John Lindquist has stood on his narrow path of land that separates Lake Christina with Lake Anka in western Minnesota and seen the flocks of waterfowl that he got used to as a child.

At its best, Lake Christina, about halfway between Fergus Falls and Alexandria, has served as an important stop to refuel for hundreds of thousands of canvasbacks and other waterfowl in the fall on the annual migration to their winter homes. Lindquist, whose father in 1953 purchased the near 180 acres he now owns, still remembers the DNR duck count from Oct. 17, 1994.

“I believe it was 108,000 canvasbacks that were on the lake,” Lindquist said. “It’s just a beautiful sight. It’s magnificent. During the migration, every day you see huge flocks coming in and when there’s food in the lake like there is now, they stay and they fatten up and then they leave when they’re fat and sassy. You don’t even have to shoot a gun. To see them is the thrill.”

It’s a sight that hunters and bird lovers hope to see on an annual basis after pumping stations that were installed almost two years ago produced the desired results this summer. Funding for those projects was provided largely by a 2009 grant to Ducks Unlimited from the Outdoor Heritage Fund.

The Department of Natural Resources used the pumps to lower the water levels on both lakes in 2012. Those lower water levels helped to consolidate sediments and led to better winter kill of many of the invasive fish in the 4,000-acre Lake Christina.

“That’s what this whole project was based on,” DU Minnesota Conservation Programs Manager Jon Schneider said, “the science that Lake Christina simply needed a temporary drought to consolidate the sediments, especially in the shallows, and give the aquatic invertebrates and plants a chance. It’s exactly what we were hoping for.”

The result this summer has been clearer water and robust plant growth on both Jennie and Christina. The DNR conducted a survey for submerged aquatic plants on Aug. 15 from 35 sampling stations on Lake Christina. Plants were found at 97 percent of the stations.

Lindquist, who is also the president of the Christina-Ina-Anka Lake Association, looks out from his shoreline now and sees sago pondweed all around. The plant is perfect feed for puddle and diving ducks alike.

“I’ve been more excited this year about Christina than I have been in a long time,” Lindquist said. “It’s been a long time coming where we feel like we can get a handle on a permanent solution to the food problem.”

Tom Carlson is a waterfowl habitat specialist for the DNR and was a part of the crew that did the plant surveys on Lake Christina. He’s confident that the installed pumps have given them the ability to manage the lake and help it produce the plants that will bring ducks back year after year.

“We showed that we could lower water levels in the winter to kill fish, and we also have the abilities to manage the water levels in the summer if need be for the plants,” Carlson said. “The main objective was to draw the lake down in the winter to winter-kill fish. We’ve shown in the past that when we use different toxicants in the lake, that if we kill a good number of fish in the lake, the water does clear up and the plants come back.”

How fast the ducks come back remains to be seen. Schneider is expecting big numbers already this fall. Both Lindquist and Carlson agree that more ducks will find the lake on their migration with the food back in the lake. Those huge flocks, the ones Lindquist remembers of almost 20 years ago, may take a little while to return.

“There will be birds there because there’s food there,” Carlson said. “But sometimes it does take a bit of time for the big numbers to start building up again.”

A lot of that depends too on what kind of food there is other places in the flyway.”

Lindquist is excited to see what this October will bring. There should be enough ducks to keep hunters busy as the Minnesota duck season opens up tomorrow, but the real rush should come sometime next month. With Christina healthy again, anticipation is there among hunters who can’t wait to see the canvasbacks, ring-necks and bluebills start streaming in.

“What Christina does is it provides hunting for the people that hunt the public access area and the private landowners,” Lindquist said. “But also it brings tremendous hunting to most of Douglas County and a lot of Grant and Otter Tail County because there are so many birds here. There will be a quarter of a million birds here when it’s healthy.”