WHY WHF? Raising Wildlife for Enjoyment and Profit
The Wildlife Habitat Federation (WHF) was formed in 2004 to bring together the best specialists and techniques for restoring and preserving wildlife in South Central Texas. Landowners want more wildlife but in many cases are unaware of the expertise, programs and information available to them. They may also wish to understand or actually be shown the economic benefits of having more wildlife and how this can be incorporated into their present operations.
Audubon Texas encouraged the formation of WHF by designating our region as a priority zone and by assigning a biologist to assist through its Quail Conservation Initiative. Improving habitat for quail becomes the common denominator for improving wildlife generally because better quail habitat benefits virtually all indigenous game species, including, but not limited to, dove, deer, wild turkey, songbirds and rabbits.
WHF's aim is to provide individuals and wildlife associations or cooperatives with the right facts on how, when and where to plan and implement wildlife restoration programs. WHFís specific objectives are 1) to restore and enhance contiguous tracts and corridors of native habitat in the Lower Colorado River Basin and adjacent areas and 2) to provide educational opportunities to assist landowners in optimizing productive use of their resources while significantly enhancing habitat.
Facts to consider:
* The Colorado River Basin, including such areas as the San Bernard River flood plain, has as much, and in most cases more, potential as any region in the state for increasing per acre numbers of upland game and waterfowl. This region has the right climate, soils, rainfall and can produce the right plant species for a variety of wildlife.
* The main limiting factor for wildlife in practically all areas is nesting, screening, loafing and escape cover, most of which is provided by native warm season grasses (NWSG). Many of these native grasses have been replaced with exotic grasses, like Bahia and Coastal Bermuda.
* Predators (fire ants, hawks, feral cats, etc.) are not the primary cause of the decline in wildlife. For example, one of the highest concentrations of quail is along the southern Texas coast, which is also one of the highest concentrations of predators. Predators are an ongoing condition and their control is a secondary course of action to improving habitat, but it can be pursued at the same time.
* Ranchers in some areas have increased profitability from their cow-calf operations with year round controlled grazing on native pastures. They do this without supplemental feeding of hay. These ranchers concentrate on profitability and less on productivity, i.e., a lower stocking rate to improve gain per head.
* Quail and other wildlife can oftentimes be raised on marginal land, i.e., those parts of a ranch or farm that are less suitable for traditional farming or ranching practices. Landowners can do much by creating wildlife corridors and these can be along fences, roads, creeks or woodlands.
* Raising wildlife can complement traditional practices, like ranching. Each can benefit the other. Actually, cattle are often important habitat management tools for areas such as southeast Texas for quail and dove. If not under- or overgrazed, they keep grass at manageable levels so that game birds have a proper balance of grasses and bare ground, an essential ingredient in our area because its relatively wet nature has strong vegetation growth.
* Private ranches, sporting clubs and successful hunting cooperatives in some areas have provided more income than traditional agricultural pursuits and, at times, more than all sources of income. Improving habitat for quail has become a top priority for some of the most successful ranches in Texas since quail hunting provides more revenue than cattle or deer in some years.
* The region being targeted by the WHF is close to Houston, reportedly the largest source of hunting revenue in the U.S.
Some of us work a lifetime in hopes of someday having the means to have more wildlife to enjoy. By following some or many of the fundamental procedures set forth below, you should be able to enjoy more wildlife in a much shorter time and your cost and time expended should be reduced.
The following tried and proven practices and information were compiled by WHF member Jim Willis with guidance from wildlife, conservation and prairie grass specialists. This information is based on a successful quail habitat restoration project conducted by Jim Willis and John Webb in the WHF targeted area, which was started in 2001 using various USDA cost-share programs with local NRCS assistance. Willis received the 2003 Soil and Water Conservation Award for Colorado County and the Texas Regional S&W Conservation Award for this project.
Where to start?
Determine what types of wildlife are most suitable. For example, if your property is open rangeland but less than 50 acres, you will have better luck with species like dove, waterfowl, songbirds or rabbits, but you would not be able to have quail in huntable numbers unless your property is contiguous to another ranch that has similar habitat.
Determine what type of wildlife you want to preserve. This may not be limited to one or a few types. Remember, creating the right habitat for bobwhite quail helps most other species of wildlife. Such a program can be more challenging, but more results can be expected.
Seek professional help. Decades of research have been conducted and volumes written on restoring wildlife. There seems to be an endless number of opinions available on how to increase wildlife numbers. Some are right on target but not all are applicable for our region. The following are, however, considered by WHF to be the best sources in our area for determining what course of action you should follow:
a) Texas Parks and Wildlife has biologists assigned throughout the state and each is familiar with conditions and plant species that work best in providing the best cover and food for a particular wildlife species in your area. For the biologist in your particular area, write or call TP&W, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, Texas 78744, (512) 389-4800, or go to the website at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/.
b ) US Fish and Wildlife Service also can provide technical help with its team of trained biologists. They also have programs aimed at increasing certain wildlife species through habitat improvement programs. Their website is www.fws.gov/. Like other agencies, they have specialists for different wildlife.
c) Audubon Texas has assigned a quail biologist to our area to improve quail habitat. Contact Jason Hardin, the Quail Conservation Initiative coordinator for Audubon Texas in Kingsville, Texas at (361) 593-3966 office, (361) 877-2807 cell, firstname.lastname@example.org for information on what programs and assistance is available. Also see www.tx.audubon.org.
d) USDAís Natural Resources and Conservation Service has field technicians and biologists/botanists who can visit your property to determine its suitability for programs aimed at improving habitat for wildlife. Web site: www.tx.nrcs.usda.gov. (see also its link to item f) below). You also should check with USDAís Farm Service Agency to determine what conservation programs are available on a cost-share basis. In most cases, property owners must also sign up with FSA before NRCS technicians can visit to determine whether you property can receive such assistance. Web site: www.fsa.usda.gov/pas
e) The County Tax Assessor or your property tax advisor should be consulted re your obtaining or retaining an agricultural exemption for land used to manage wildlife. In 1995, the state enacted legislation which allowed such exemptions to be extended to wildlife management.
f) Technical Service Providers can provide additional help. They are licensed by NRCS to help implement and oversee various types of conservation programs approved by NRCS, like prescribed burns. Contact your local NRCS office for the names of TSPs or check their web site: techreg.usda.gov. Some of our WHF members are certified TSPs and can provide insight and assistance.
g) Dove Sportsmansí Society provides landowners with information on increasing dove and distributes seed for planting grain. Web site: dss-houston.org. Tel: Russ Bourquein (713) 582-9020 cell, Thor@houston.rr.com; or Steve Brown (832) 327-0478 office, (713) 502-1764 cell, email@example.com.
h) Texas Cooperative Extension offers educational programs (e.g., seminars, on-site demonstrations) that promote wildlife management. Contact the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences at Texas A&M University (wildlife.tamu.edu) or your local county Extension office for more information.
Enjoyment versus economic justification. Some may just wish to have more wildlife simply because they like to see and hear them more. Others may also want to have more as a source of revenue which can be derived from eco-tourism or hunting. Those ranches with successful habitat restoration programs can expect more wildlife; however, most will have to reduce grazing pressure so as to restore native warm season grasses. (New government programs may be available to help offset the cost of deferred grazing.)
Once these grasses are restored, some landowners have been able to graze cattle year round with greatly reduced supplemental feed (i.e., limited cottonseed meal in winter). Although all of this suggests reduced stocking rates and productivity, ranchers may be able to increase profitability. A smaller cattle herd would result in reduced feeding costs, vet bills and other associated expenses. Landowners may realize more revenue from hunting, increased interest on money not tied up in cattle and possibly government grazing-deferral programs. The cost of getting such a program underway will vary by ranch depending upon the amount of native grasses and cover, how quickly the owner wishes to accomplish conservation program goals and the availability of government cost-share programs.
Decide how intensive a program you wish to pursue. Like any business, the more you invest in time and money, the larger potential return in enjoyment and revenue. Unlike other investments, wildlife conservation efforts pay life-long benefits that you can enjoy year round. You may wish to start on your own without financial assistance or before any outside assistance becomes available. No matter which route you choose, WHF suggests that the following four techniques be employed:
Hoof: Before cattle were introduced, fast-grazers or bison roamed. These animals existed in sufficient numbers to control vegetation and, like cattle, their hooves helped to plant seeds from native grass and forbs. Having cattle can be beneficial in this area for quail, dove and other species, since bison have long been gone. Landowners may however need to reduce stocking rates as this combined with the planting of exotic grasses has destroyed or severely fragmented habitat. Better rotational grazing on pastures with more native grasses will result in more wild game and may increase profitability by reducing costs. Landowners using better rotational grazing and ìletting land restî may be able to cut costs and increase net profits.
Match: Most wildlife habitat improvement specialists agree that controlled or prescribed burning, primarily in winter or early spring before new grass and forbs emerge, is the number one tool for improving habitat. The new growth has more vigor and provides more palatable food for animals. Fire scarifies the seed of native grasses, forbs and wildflowers resulting in better germination. It removes thatch in both pastures and woodlands allowing beneficial plants to emerge and wildlife to find more seeds for food. Some of the above-mentioned agencies can provide a burn plan and actually perform the prescribed burn for those enrolled in habitat improvement programs. The WHF can also provide the names of those qualified to assist.
Plow: Plowing strips around the perimeter of fields (next to fences, roads, waterways or woodlands) creates forbs, like croton (dove weed), that serve as a prime food source and screening cover. The same strips serve as fire breaks for prescribed burns. Plowing strips through fields and woodlands or rectangular plots for dove encourages upland game to feed and encourages quail to nest close to these plowed areas. Bear in mind that this does not appreciably affect grazing as a strip 8 feet wide and 1 mile long equals only ONE acre. Even those that do not want to disturb their pastures or hay meadows can have more wildlife by plowing edges of fields. This provides the critically needed corridors for wildlife--wildlife mainly inhabit edges.
Herbicides: These are often needed to kill unwanted exotic plants and to thin or eliminate competing vegetation. Grass species, such as Bahia and Coastal Bermuda, are of no benefit to wildlife. They inhibit wildlife from finding food and offer no cover. Woody plants, like yaupon, tallow trees and McCartney rose, can also be invasive species. (However, some woody plants such as yaupon or wax myrtle should be left as escape cover.) Like disking, herbicides help to alter advancing plant succession and enhances the establishment of beneficial grasses, legumes, forbs, trees and shrubs. Seek assistance from your local county Extension agent (or the NRCS specialist if conservation programs, like EQIP, are being used) about what kinds of herbicides may be appropriate for your situation. Be sure and use all herbicides according to label directions.
Activity: Strip Disking
Where: Borders of fields, roads, woodlands, creeks, etc.
When: Fall / Winter Best
How/Why: Firebreak, to promote growth of forbs for food and cover, especially for broods.
Activity: Controlled Burning
Where: Idle field & timber
When: Primarily Winter
How/Why: Stimulate growth of grass, legumes, thins out woody species, reduces thatch
Activity: Rotational Grazing
Where: All lands
When: High intensity, low frequency on native grasses (NWSGs)
How/Why: Establishes ideal nesting and roosting cover. On a 3 pasture rotational system, reduced costs & increased profit
Where: Wherever required to eliminate or thin competing growth
When: Mostly during Spring, Summer and Fall
How/Why: Enhances establishment of grasses, legumes, forbs, trees, shrubs
How a landowner uses his land is a personal choice. In this guide, the Wildlife Habitat Federation only wishes to suggest a means for restoring and preserving the wildlife and fauna that God was so gracious to provide for us and future generations to enjoy. We hope you will join us in preserving our heritage.
Why Whf? Raising Wildlife For Enjoyment And Profit
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