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Naturalists learn from Celery Bog amid drought

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Not much can be done to raise the Celery Bog's water level. At least, not by humans.

"This is a regular sort of thing that you would expect, given the range of temperatures and lack of rainfall that we've had," said Dave Schmidt, an Indiana master naturalist and volunteer at the Lilly Nature Center in West Lafayette.

The statewide drought that has caused much of the West Lafayette wetland to evaporate is putting an even bigger focus on studying what happens in the bog until more rain arrives, Schmidt said.

"We're basically waiting for nature to do its thing," he said, "because we can't pump water into it. This is more about taking advantage of learning from what this looks like now, so we can appreciate it when the levels are back up again."

The Celery Bog's deepest basins — which have held as much as 6 to 8 feet of water — are now as low as 2 feet of water, affecting animals, plants and other organisms, according to Dan Dunten, stewardship manager with the West Lafayette Parks and Recreation Department.

"What we're seeing is less water for the migratory birds and less space for the bog's small number of fish," he said. "Now it's easier for the blue herons to eat those fish.

"Everything should get back to normal once we get a good amount of rain. We aren't overly concerned because it will fill back up and take care of itself."

Climate change could be a factor, Schmidt said.

"My thought is that this is probably representative of a little more of what is going to be natural if consistently warmer temperatures are affecting the area," Schmidt said.

Mary Cutler, naturalist for the Tippecanoe County Parks and Recreation Department, said a winter without much snow, a windy and warm spring and a hot, dry summer all have played a role in drying out the bog.

That change is all part of the bog's natural cycle, she said.

"Ebb and flow causes some organisms to benefit, and some lose out," she said. "I have seen birds, usually called shore birds, that I've never seen because the water levels dropped. That's just how nature is."

Cutler said Celery Bog visitors "have come to expect seeing those water levels so high because it's been much higher in recent memory, and they have gotten used to seeing that expanse of water.

"This is really not an abnormal thing. Wetlands aren't like lakes, ponds and rivers because they typically experience periods of high water level and then a dry period."

About 89 percent of Indiana is suffering from drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

At the Purdue Agronomy Farm outside West Lafayette, precipitation from April 1 to July 8 totaled 7.11 inches. That was 5.18 inches below normal. Counties in southern Indiana have seen rain totals 8 to 10 inches below normal, according to the latest Indiana Crop & Weather Report.

Information from: Journal and Courier, http://www.jconline.com