Managing Wildlife Habitat on Idle, Fallow Areas

The best place to start when it comes to managing habitat required by wildlife is the most neglected part of a property. Old, fallow crop fields and abandoned pastures found on private properties across the US can provide quality habitat for native wildlife. This is because wildlife love low succession plant species that provide an abundance of cover and forage. When managing for wildlife, however, it’s important to realize that what looks good to most humans and what looks good to wildlife are two completely different things.

Numerous species of wildlife are dependent upon the earlier stages of plant succession. Examples are bob white quail, rabbits and a variety of songbirds. In the absence of fire, periodic soil disturbance is needed to prevent an old field from growing into a woodland. Disking and prescribed fire will help start the process of plant succession all over again making the area more productive for wildlife.

Fallow fields can be maintained in a productive condition through a variety of management practices. If the area was pastureland there is a good chance that exotic, sod-forming grasses compromise the bulk of the plants found there. Wildlife prefer the cover and seeds produced by native bunchgrasses, so dense stands of exotic grasses should be controlled. Native grass will promote improved foraging and movement at ground level.

It’s a good idea to disturb vegetation and/or the ground during late winter or very early spring. A great habitat management practice is to disk strips through a field on the contour to expose 70 to 80 percent of the soil within the strip. This action will allow weeds to grow and will increase plant diversity within the strip over the next few years. These disked areas can also be enhanced further by seeding at a rate of 5 pounds of Kobe or Korean lespedeza per acre or other seed mix to create an improved forage plot.

Wildlife Management for Habitat

Although the idea of burning the landscape seems like a no-no to many landowners, it’s actually a great management practice for managing wildlife habitat. Burn a portion of the areas between the disked strips on an annual basis for maximum diversity. Burning sets back the plant community and stimulates the production of seeds and insects that are important to quail chicks and songbirds. Burn at 3-5 year intervals and at different times of the year.

Disturbance of an area through management is good, but it’s not a good idea to disturb an entire property at one time. Wild animals always need a place that provides food and cover, so make sure there is always something available to them. A good rule of thumb is to disk or burn about 1/3 of the old field each year. Both disking and burning can be used to prevent an area from reverting to forest, although it would be a good idea from a diversity standpoint to let some of the area grow into a shrubland or woodland.

Idle areas and fallow fields on private lands can be managed for wildlife habitat with a little work and planning. Plants and animals will respond readily to wildlife management practices that increase plant diversity. Increased wildlife numbers are a response to better seed production as well as more complex structure due to a variety of plants on a landscape.

Quail Habitat Restoration Takes Center Stage

As hunters look to the quail hunting season opening on October 25 across Texas, there is new hope for bobwhite quail, and for dozens of other birds and animals that share the same native grassland habitat. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has awarded grants to put $4 million worth of quail habitat conservation on the ground, using a special appropriation by the Texas Legislature to help bring back the quail.

“We chose places where quail are gone, but they haven’t been gone long, kind of the front line in the battle to restore bobwhites,” said Robert Perez, TPWD upland game bird program leader. “It’s a first out, first back in concept. Can we bring quail back? That’s the question we’re exploring in these focus areas.”

The three focus areas are the Southeast Texas area – close to a dozen counties around Columbus, Sealy, Victoria; the I-35 Corridor area in Navarro and Ellis County; and the Rolling Plains/Cross Timbers area – counties around and south of Wichita Falls

“We’re using the $4 million to concentrate efforts in certain counties, with partners, so that the funding goes on the ground, and you build up enough habitat to support viable quail populations that are visible in numbers,” Perez said. “The government will never be able to pay enough to restore millions of acres for quail habitat. The goal is to demonstrate success in various areas of the state and show that quail habitat can be restored, to inspire and guide private landowners throughout the quail range.”

Fifteen grants have been awarded and two more in process to various nonprofits, universities and others for grassland restoration in the three focus areas. The $4 million in grants comes from the sale of $7 upland game bird stamps purchased by hunters.

Grant partners include organizations like the Wildlife Habitat Federation west of Houston, the Western Navarro Bobwhite Recovery Initiative south of Dallas, and the Grassland Restoration Incentive Program (GRIP) under the Oaks & Prairies Joint Venture, which has already delivered habitat restoration projects on more than 36,000 acres of grasslands in the three focus areas.

In addition, Perez received a federal Wildlife Restoration Program grant for $200,000 over four years, to fund multi-year quail population monitoring to measure the impact that these combined restoration efforts are having on quail populations and other grassland birds in the focus areas.

“What’s different here is the monitoring,” Perez said. “That scale and quality of monitoring is often left out because there isn’t enough staff or money to do it. But this time we are counting birds carefully in new ways, before and after restoration. We’re hiring summer technicians to cover thousands of points, counting quail and other grassland birds that share this habitat and are also in decline.”

If you build it, they will come. Habitat is the cornerstone of every wildlife species that we have. Habitat is comprised of the food, cover, water and space that a species needs to survive. There is a lot of overlap between quail habitat and other grassland nesting birds, so promoting quail habitat means helping a lot of other critters, non-game ones included.

Texas Offers Public Hunting for Waterfowl and More

Hunting on Texas Public Land

For many Texas duck hunters, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) Annual Public Hunting Permit (APH) Program allows economical access to quality hunting on the state’s wildlife management areas (WMA). With a $48 APH, available for purchase wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold, hunters have regular access during the season to some of the state’s prime managed wetland habitat.

The hunting is typically good, but as TPWD biologists are quick to point out, there are no guarantees when it comes to migrating ducks. However, things are looking really good right now. TPWD says Texas duck hunters should see more action during the upcoming early teal season, Sept. 13-28, thanks to near record numbers of birds and an anticipated typical migration pattern.

Teal Hunting Looks Good

Prospects for early teal season are looking very good, especially compared to the last few years, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Waterfowl Program Leader Kevin Kraai. “First, blue-winged teal populations are near record high and production reports are excellent. Additionally, unlike last year’s very late spring, nesting efforts were more on time this year and thus should result in a timely migration that will overlap better with our teal season dates.”

Texas hunters can take up to six teal daily during the 16-day season. The possession limit is three times the daily limit, which cannot be applied before the third day of the season. Information about these areas and TPWD’s public hunting program are available online at their website.

Duck Hunting by Region

Biologists say habitat conditions across most of Texas are much improved from previous years. The coastal marshes and prairies were rapidly drying out late this summer before some very welcomed rainfall the end of August put more shallow fresh water on the landscape and freshened up salty marshes and that means teal and other ducks will be using them in higher numbers. There are several public hunting areas for waterfowl along the upper and middle Texas coast.

The ponds, lakes, and reservoirs of central and eastern Texas could use some additional water, biologists suggest, but hunters that seek out the shallow waters of many of the water bodies that remain will likely encounter many of the migrating teal leaving the breeding grounds moving though the area daily. These areas should offer good waterfowl hunting during the early season and late season.

Playa wetlands of the Texas panhandle also received good rainfall early in the summer and some are still holding water that will attract early migrating ducks. These wetlands are very dynamic and many are rapidly drying with recent warm windy days and could use some additional rainfall to assure their presence on the landscape into the fall. Expect cold weather to push birds into the region during mid-hunting season.

Dove Hunting Season Set in Texas for 2014

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says the dove hunting season dates and bag limits are finalized for 2014 and that they will provide dove hunters more opportunity later in the season. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved the 2014-2015 Texas dove season, which includes a 70-day season and 15-bird daily bag statewide. The traditional September 1 dove season opening day in the North and Central Zones remains and in 2014 that will fall on a Monday, Labor Day.

The season will extend longer on the backside, but the first segment in those zones will be shorter than last season, closing on Monday, Oct. 20. The season will reopen Friday, Dec. 19 and run through Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015 in the North and Central Zones.

Dove Hunting Seasons in Texas

In the South Zone and Special White-winged Dove Area, the first segment will be shortened by five days compared to last year, and those days would be added to the end of the second segment. The South Zone opens Friday, Sept. 19 and runs through Monday, Oct. 20. The second segment will run Friday, Dec. 19 through Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015.

The daily bag limit for doves across the state of Texas is 15 and the possession limit is 45.

The Special White-winged Dove Area will be restricted to afternoon-only (noon to sunset) hunting the first two full September weekends on Sept. 6-7 and 13-14. Dove hunting in this part of Texas will reopen Friday, Sept. 19 and continue through Monday, Oct. 20, and then reopen Friday, Dec. 19 through Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015. During the early two weekends, the daily bag limit is 15 birds, to include not more than two mourning doves and two white-tipped doves. Once the general season opens, the aggregate bag limit will be 15 with no more than two white-tipped doves.

Based on overall habitat conditions this year, it looks like dove season should be hot across much of Texas in early fall. Lots of doves, both mourning and white-winged, have been observed over the past few months and nesting and production should be strong. That bodes well for Texas hunters, so I’m really looking forward to Sept. 1.

“Abandoned” Fawns and Other Wildlife Best Left Alone

As wildlife become active this time of year, many animals are on the move and taking their young as they search for resources. Some may appear abandoned, so people in rural and urban environments may find themselves coming across adolescent animals that appear to need human kindness but sometimes the less human interaction the babies get, the better.

Gone are the spring days of wobbly fawns and baby birds just out of their shells, yet these and other animals are still only a few months old. Most are adolescents being cared for by their mothers and these young animals often stray and appear to be abandoned. Some may appear listless from the heat or lack of water. This is not the time to help out, wildlife experts say.

“Many people discover apparently lost or abandoned wildlife young and take them in, thinking they are doing the right thing, and this sometimes does more harm than good,” said Mark Klym of the Wildlife Diversity branch at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “People should leave young animals alone unless they are obviously injured or orphaned. It is best to observe a wild creature from a distance for a while in order to make that determination.”

Staying too close to the baby may keep the mother from returning, Klym said. Continue reading

Wildlife Management Field Day for Coryell, Hamilton & Lampasas Counties, Texas

The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is hosting a multi-county Range and Wildlife Management Field Day May 6 in Coryell County for landowners interested in managing both wildlife and livestock on their ranches. The multi-county field day is from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Harman School Community Center, located about four miles off of Farm-to-Market Road 580 on Harmon Road, and the field portion will be from 1-4 p.m. at the Hannah Ranch following lunch.

“Many landowners in Texas are beginning to see the value in managing for wildlife on their ranch,” said Brian Hays, associate director of the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources and a speaker at the program. “Landowners interested in wildlife management and habitat can take advantage of various incentive programs to diversify their income through good land stewardship for livestock and wildlife.”

Pasquale Swaner, AgriLife Extension agent for Coryell County, said various AgriLife Extension staff will discuss turkey and quail biology and management, feral hog biology and abatement, and rangeland evaluation during the morning session. A Texas Parks and Wildlife Department expert will speak on wildlife management planning and Proposition 11, which allows landowners to retain their agricultural property tax valuation for wildlife management. A U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service expert will discuss proper brush management techniques such as dozing, prescribed fire and herbicide application. Continue reading

Suburban Deer Management in Pennsylvania

White-tailed deer are a enjoyed by landowners and hunters in rural areas, but this is not so much the case in suburban and urban settings like Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In fact, many cities across the US are starting to take a closer look at increased suburban deer management programs. Not because they want more deer, but because they need less. They are simply trying to cope with overabundant deer populations.

Whitetail are a prolific species that does well in areas where hunting is non-existent, and that type of land is increasing because of suburban development, many of which include greenbelts where deer thrive. Add to the good habitat, few natural predators in these areas the fact that city ordinances and property owner associations ban hunting and the whitetail numbers just keep going up, up and away. The time for a new deer management plan has arrived:

Source: “In urban deer management, the Game Commission is falling on its face,” said Robinson resident Randy Santucci, president of Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania. “Just jacking up the doe permits doesn’t solve the problem — it’s up to 61,000 in 2B.”

At a recent meeting with the Board of Game Commissioners, Santucci presented ideas intended to help the agency to “reduce the urban deer population.”

Did he say “reduce?” For years, Unified Sportsmen has aggressively attacked the Game Commission’s deer management plan on the grounds that too many deer were being killed, asserting that the agency didn’t have the backs of Keystone State hunters. Twice in the last decade Unified challenged the agency in Commonwealth Court in unsuccessful bids to reverse the intentional reduction of the deer population.

In what could be seen as a softening of tactics, Unified Sportsmen’s president is now proposing ideas that would help the Game Commission to trim deer populations in urban areas. Santucci said he understands the irony.

“This is something from outside the box,” he said, “to help address the economic impact of hunters no longer going to camps in the mountains where there used to be lots of deer, and problems in the suburbs where they have the opposite problem of too many deer.”