A little planning can improve wildlife potential of land

This year brings a happy homecoming for me. After having the distinct pleasure of visiting with agriculture’s finest folks during my time as a Southeast Farm Press intern in 2004, I am thrilled to be returning to the Southeast Farm Press family and honored to be connecting with the hardest-working group of farmers and ranchers in the country.

I attribute my ability to appreciate this chosen way of life to having been raised on a cattle ranch in Maplesville, Ala., and I owe my gift to communicate the stories of this elite group to the Almighty and my dual degrees in Agricultural Communications and Wildlife Sciences from Auburn University.

It is a blessing to be working with the Southeast Farm Press family and you once again.

I have found that one common thread unites the agricultural nation — a sincere love of the land. This love encompasses more than just the need to live off the land; it also includes a desire to see the land reach its full potential both in production agriculture and in natural resource conservation.

Whether you are seeking to maximize the wildlife viewing opportunities on your property or attempting to restore native ecosystems on your land, this monthly column will explore ways to help you incorporate natural resource conservation concepts into your land management plan and lay the groundwork for future generations to make wise management decisions.

One of the most popular and enjoyable land uses related to natural resource conservation is that of enhancing the wildlife potential of a property. While your personal goals and preferences will determine your individual land management plan, all landowners should be aware of a few basic principles of land management for wildlife:

• Diversity offers options. Different types of habitat, along with variations in age, size, and species of timber, gives wildlife a variety of food and cover opportunities.

• Bigger is not always better. Large acreage, single species habitats are undesirable. For example, quail prefer a 0.5-acre partridge pea field to a 50-acre partridge pea field. Also, deer and turkeys prefer 50 acres of meandering hardwood drains on a property to 500 acres of solid, closed canopy hardwoods.

• You don’t have to sacrifice timber income. Promoting good wildlife habitat and good timber management are not mutually exclusive, though some concessions and opportunity costs are necessary to optimize wildlife habitat in a timber environment. For instance, pre-commercial loblolly plantations are poor wildlife habitat.

• Thin and burn to see returns. Pine stands should be thinned to a lower basal area in order to allow a well-developed understory of grasses, legumes, forbs, and shrubs to attract wildlife. Periodic prescribed burns also create and maintain this habitat, which should be kept free of sweetgums.

Longleaf pine, on suitable soils, is a superior pine for wildlife habitat because of its ability to withstand burning at an early age and its tendency to maintain an “open” canopy through most of its life.

• Go native. All wildlife prefer native food sources. Increasing access to fruit trees (such as persimmons) and mast trees (such as oaks) will provide better habitat.  Pasture grasses such as bermuda, bahia, and ryegrass, along with most exotic/invasive plants, are poor quality habitat.

• Though planting greenfields is a popular way to attract deer for viewing, it provides poor quality habitat overall. Patch plantings of sorghum, beans, corn, partridge pea, sunflower, shrub lespedeza, and plum thickets offer better options for supporting wildlife in the long run.

Fallow ground can also be utilized for wildlife because fall/winter disked areas promote the growth of ragweed, which is desirable for quail and turkey brood habitat, insects and deer browse.

Join me next time as we delve further into these universal wildlife management truths investigating why they work and how you can utilize them to maximize your land management plan.


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