After meeting with the wildlife biologist about the 160 acre property, we are a little more educated about habitat and what will work and what won’t work in accordance with certain habitat programs. We found out quickly that just drawing up a dream property design can be a bit fly by night. If you are entering property into wildlife habitat programs you really have to stay within the guidelines to be compliant. Although it won’t be laid out exactly like we initially planned, the biologist has a good idea of what we want. Being familiar with the different State and Federal programs, he should be able to put together a feasible design that should get approved upon submission. This is where we are now, waiting on a detailed design. As a matter of fact, it will be extremely detailed as far as layout, species of trees and native grasses, required burn schedules, and how and when to do it all.
He expressed the importance of native warm season grasses as they provide ground cover that holds up through even a tough winter. Warm season grasses have an insulating effect which is vitally important to most wildlife species. Warm season grasses grow in clumps. This growth pattern provides a good percentage of bare ground which is necessary for many birds but without causing soil erosion issues. The bare areas in between clumps of grass provide ease of movement reducing the overall energy wildlife must spend in search of protein rich insects. Dove, quail, pheasant, turkey, and many songbirds find native warm season grasses suitable nesting cover. This type of cover is also preferred by deer. It’s a great bedding area and keeps deer on your property by providing a place for does to safely raise their fawns.
Providing screening type cover around the perimeter of the property is important to preventing wind erosion, keeping the deer feeling secure, and to help protect from trespassers and poachers. Several staggered rows of white pines are usually the norm. But because the pines will take years to mature, we are also wanting to plant some hybrid poplars and possibly even some hybrid willows. The two hybrid species grow extremely fast and will provide protection long before the pines do.
Another option we are looking into is Egyptian wheat which is actually not a wheat at all, it’s more of a sorghum but can provide some great cover in a short time. Egyptian wheat will mature in 120-140 days and will get 10-12 feet high. We may be able to plant it around the perimeter of CRP and grass sections for our burn rows. Normally from the property line in you plant 3-6 rows of staggered trees for screening and a windbreak, then several rows of native bushes and brush, a minimum of 30 foot burn lane usually clover, and then the native grass. A burn row can be anything that is tillable each year so on years you have to burn a 30 foot dirt lane keeps the fire where it belongs. The brush row between the burn row and windbreak is to distance the trees further from a blazing fire. Although some heat is good for the trees, too much can obviously be both detrimental and dangerous.
While waiting on a design, we are setting up a meeting with a forestry expert to discuss the 40 acres of woodlot. Selective clear cutting will create dense brush and food for deer. It’s important to know that most of a deer’s diet exists within 5-6 feet of the ground. A tall standing timber with a heavy canopy doesn’t provide much ground cover or food for deer. What might appear to be a great looking woods can be a barren waste land as far as deer are concerned. Clear cutting can also provide some extra income that could be helpful in other areas of your property. Wildlife habitat should be thick enough that it’s hard for humans to walk through and the only way to produce that in a wooded area is to allow some sunlight to reach the ground. Our desired plan is to do some clear cutting and some hinge cutting to provide thick cover and then designate that area as a deer sanctuary.
As we anxiously await an approved plan and springtime, we are planning out our food plots. Our goal is to provide something for the deer to eat on a year round basis. In the next section we’ll talk about particular food sources and what our game plan is for creating a deer smorgasbord. Stay tuned!