The Panhandle’s oldest wildlife management areas will not be available to sportsmen for boating and fishing this summer, but waterfowl hunters will be able to take advantage of the 2,700 acre wetland again this fall.
The McArthur Lake Reservoir, one of Idaho’s oldest, lies adjacent to U.S. 95 smack dab between Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry — it is located about 18 miles north of Sandpoint and 13 miles south of Bonners Ferry — and offers a wide variety of habitat to draw waterfowl, especially during migration and breeding seasons.
More than 300 species of wildlife including 22 fish species from minnows to redband trout, seven species of amphibians including newts, frogs and salamanders, six species of reptiles including garter snakes and painted turtles, 45 species of mammals, and over 223 species of birds have been observed on the refuge, according to Idaho Fish and Game, which has managed the site since the 1940s.
In an effort to rejuvenate the lake, Fish and Game plans to draw down the water this summer which will leave the reservoir dry except for Deep Creek and Dodge Creek, cold water streams that feed the reservoir, and a few pools and channels, Evan DeHamer, regional wildlife habitat biologist said.
“Some fish loss is expected, but fish repopulated the lake without restocking after previous drawdowns,” DeHamer said.
Warm water fish including perch and pumpkinseed may get stranded in the shallows, but trout which use the streams to migrate in and out of McArthur will probably not be affected.
The last complete drawdown at McArthur Lake was in 2012, preceded by a partial drawdown and dam repairs in 2006, and a complete drawdown in 2002, DeHamer said.
“We’ve been doing it through the 2000s and probably the 1990s as well,” he said. “Every five to 10 years, and we’re right there in that range, so it’s time.”
Drawdowns imitate the natural cycles of ponds and small lakes, bringing air back into the usually submerged soils, and maintaining wetland diversity.
“It basically rejuvenates the system,” DeHamel said. “That keeps it productive … and keeps it from becoming a monoculture.”
The drawdown is scheduled to begin June 1 and the lake level will be dropped as low as possible for four to six weeks and remain at that level through the summer.
The low water will render the fishing dock and boat ramp unusable until it’s refilled, DeHamel said.
Water will continue to flow through Deep and Dodge creeks and provide habitat for fish and wildlife during the drawdown. Refilling will begin with fall rains and is expected to be completed next spring.
McArthur Lake was established in 1942 to mitigate against wetland loss. It was followed by Farragut wildlife management area — the land was purchased by Fish and Game in 1949 — Pend Oreille WMA in 1956, and the Coeur d’Alene River WMA in 1964. Snow Peak WMA was established in the 1980s and Boundary Creek was established in 1999.
McArthur Lake is popular among hunters, anglers, fur trappers, as well as birdwatchers, hikers and naturalists.
This summer, when the drawdown exposes the lake’s mudflats, wildlife watchers can expect to see great blue herons, bald eagles, killdeer, lesser yellowlegs and multiple species of sandpipers feeding on fish, crustaceans, insects, seeds and plants exposed during low water.