By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — On a mid-Friday afternoon, Jan. 3, Scott Rennick surveys a rugged, muddy landscape in a pasture in the wilds of north-central Kay County, not far outside Braman. One corner of the pasture reveals a mess of mud and water in a wetland in an almost impassable scene, due to nearly an in and a half of rain that fell the previous Saturday. He had been rehabilitating the pasture, until the rain got in the way.
“The rain’s a blessing – we need it for the wetland, just not while we’re building it,” he said.
Rennick is the founder of Bear Creek Wetlands, a private business he created to rehabilitate wetlands, as well as create now ones, to provide a habitat for waterfowl and other aquatic wildlife.
A native of Denver, Colo., he was raised in Los Angeles. He realized at a young age that the city life was not for him.
“All the time I could be outdoors, I was,” he said. “Being in Los Angeles was tough. Before I was 11, I realized that unban existence was not for me.”
He left California at age 18 to join the U.S. Army, and ended up in Manhattan, Kan., for about 20 years, where he attended Kansas State University and began a career with upland game and waterfowl, while training dogs on the side.
His family returned to Colorado for another 20 years, before finally landing in Newkirk about six years ago, due to friends in the area, as well as retirement. That was the plan, anyway, as he soon continued wetland work not long after he arrived at his new home.
“Hunting and fishing is what I like to do,” he said. “My deep passion is restoring wetlands.”
Rennick operates Bear Creek Wetlands throughout the year, primarily with his daughter, although more workers may be used in larger projects, he said. He has worked all over the region, with the most current project in a pasture on Bender-Braman Road, just east of Braman.
Although he enjoys all types of hunting, his work focuses on waterfowl and wetlands taking advantage of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Wetland Reserve Program (WRP), which provides producers and landowners with technical and financial assistance to restore wetlands.
Rennick also does work with private landowners, as well.
“We take wetlands that have been drained, and restore them to hydric conditions, which are basically wetlands, and also take grounds that are suitable for wetland habitat, and design water systems and terraces and dams, to make it a wetland habitat,” he said.
Rehabilitating wetlands serves several functions. For one, it restores and protects the water table for all who rely on it. It helps purify the water itself, and provides a habitat for a variety of animals, both migratory game and non-game species. Some of those species include ibis, phalarope, spoonbills and ducks and geese.
“It is important for the fall migration, as well as the spring migration, and are important as resting areas and feeding cover for those species,” he said. “It can also be reproductive habitat for those species.”
Rennick employs a variety of designs to build or restore the wetlands. If they are building a new one, they design the entire system to fit the property, including with the installation of dams, or smaller terraces to retain the water. That takes a variety of equipment, ranging from backhoes, to dozers and larger tracked excavators to form a water retention pond, and build the dirt up into an earthen dam.
For rehabilitation measures, it may involve dredging out an existing pond and rebuilding the dam, which may have been damaged through the years.
That was the very job Rennick was using at the Braman property. The pasture is owned by Dan Wiley, of Tulsa, who obtained the property with a wetland already installed, built through the WRP.
“It had a lot of siltation, and they started forming islands,” Renick said. “The water structure was gone, and there were a lot of beaver and muskrat problems. The terrace had problems, and we had to fix all those.”
Most of the dredging had taken place prior to the rain, but there was still a lot of work to do on the earthen terrace structure used to contain the water. Once finished, it will be fully-functioning wetland, ready for not just waterfowl, but all species in the area, and rife with wildlife for waterfowl hunting.
“(Hunting waterfowl) is the 65-day reward for doing this work the rest of the year,” he said.
It is more than that, however, as it is also a positive for the birds, the wildlife and the environment, even of nobody hunts on the property.
“It’s not just about duck hunting, it’s a thing we can do for migrating species, and it benefits everybody,” he said.