What is Wildlife Management
Wildlife and habitat management is a process, a long-term goal that works towards sustaining and improving the health of native plant and animal communities. It is important that property owners and land managers understand basic ecological principles of plant succession, plant growth, food chains, and water, mineral and soil nutritive cycles as they affect plants, wildlife and grazing management. It order to provide the habitat that many wildlife species need, it is also important to manage for a high level of plant succession and diversity.
Healthy, individual plants and diverse vegetative communities not only result in high quality habitat and plentiful wildlife, but also leads to more stable conditions during stress periods such as droughts and winter. Before man intervened, the natural processes that took place on a landscape shaped both the plant and animal communities that called that area home. The alteration or complete removal of certain processes is, in many cases, what caused the onset of habitat degradation. Proper wildlife management practices can restore those processes, restoring natives, creating diversity and promoting wildlife.
Managing Wildlife is About Habitat
If you build it, they will come. Every wildlife species needs habitat, which is a combination of food, cover, water and some component of space. They key to species-specific management is discovering what an animal needs, figuring out what you have, and finally taking the necessary actions to produce the desired results. That, in a nutshell, is exactly what wildlife management is all about. If the soil is protected, if the management actions are taken, even abused land can be restored to its productive beauty. To achieve any goal it takes some number of measurable actions, objectives.
The actual activities that property owners and land managers can implement on the ground, on their property are called habitat management practices. These practices impact the plants that are found there, which make up habitat for various animals. It’s important to note that not all wildlife species require the same habitat. Certain plant communities that serve as habitat for waterfowl, for example, are not necessarily habitat for squirrels or white-tailed deer. There are primarily five tools of habitat and wildlife management that, used to varying degrees, will positively impact the habitat for any wildlife species. Which tool is used depends on the mangers objectives.
Native Plants, Wildlife Impacted Many Ways
Early settlement thrived when native grasslands were lush and seemed capable of supporting an unlimited number of livestock, including cattle, sheep, goats, hogs and even horse. This all changed when rainfall was scarce, then periods of drought and the overgrazing of livestock was common. On many properties throughout the US, overgrazing is still an issue. The result is abused rangelands lacking the groundcover to support livestock and the frobs and browse to support healthy wildlife populations. Midgrass and tallgrass communities were replaced with shortgrass communities.
Although livestock have eliminated or altered many native plant communities, cattle can be an effective tool for wildlife management. In fact, cows can be used as a tool to manipulate and improve wildlife habitat and plant diversity. The main role of grazing in a management program is to reduce the quantity of grass from time to time. This periodic disturbance allows sunlight to reach forbs which are important wildlife foods, but that are often shaded out by grass. This benefits both plant groups as well as wildlife because of more structural diversity, which is more conducive to the nesting and brood rearing of ground-nesting birds and hiding for numerous mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
Where to Start Managing Wildlife?
As simple as it sounds, the best place to start managing for wildlife is in your own backyard. Whether it be 1 acre or 1,000 acres, whether it be in New York, Texas or Washington, there are activities that can be done right now on every property to make things better for native plants and animals. Ranch lands, farm lands and forests lands all fit the bill. Each one of these plant associations can all be managed to a higher degree for beneficial results. Often times, the most effective thing one can do is to simply stop mis-managing a property.
For example, many farmlands now provide little for local wildlife because of intensive farming practices, but even minor adjustments can pay big dividends in terms of wildlife and recreation. If managed in a fashion suitable to thier needs, doves and quail can thrive in cultivated areas where acreage is relatively small, irregular in shape, and is broken up by fallow fields. In fact, fallow or idle areas such as fencerows, ditches, and field borders are very important to making the farmland suitable for wildlife because it breaks up vast cultivated acreage, provides areas for native plants and give wildlife both food and cover. Whatever you have, something can be done.
Soil Conservation and Management for Habitat, Wildlife
Increased soil erosion over past decades has hurt plant and animal communities, but appropriate management practices can restore native plants, wildlife and the habitat that they need. The top few inches of soil are critical to plant survival, and plant survival is necessary for the wildlife that uses those species for food and cover. Although many properties have suffered because of improper land management practices that culminated with erosion, the results can be reversed.
Property owners facing the issue of soil loss can do many things to remedy this problem and establish herbaceous cover, increase water infiltration and improve habitat conditions for both game and non-game wildlife. The first step is no stop and prevent activities that do not encourage plant growth. Without roots to hold soils together the process of erosion will continue. If wildlife management is the long-term goal, then protecting soils should be the first objective.
White-tailed Deer Management
One of the most popular animals managed for on private lands within the US is the white-tailed deer. Since whitetail are one of the more adaptable large mammal species, providing a mix of healthy forested and grassland habitats should be the primary goal. Given adequate protection, deer do great over a wide array of land-use types, even within and on the fringe of suburban areas. The number of deer that can be supported in good physical condition on any given land area is called the carrying capacity of that habitat. Maintaining populations at or below this number is the first step in deer management.
Whitetail populations are managed primarily by selective harvest during the deer hunting season. If deer populations are unhunted, deer numbers can increase quickly until their numbers exceed the available food supply. As this occurs, preferred foods are eliminated, herd productivity is diminished, and the health, body size and antler quality of the animals declines. Continued population increases often cause long-term habitat (plant) destruction, which impacts deer and other game and non-game species. This problem can be exacerbated on properties where poor farming or livestock management is taking place concurrently.