Practicing Wildlife Management
The secret to wildlife management is… wait. There is no secret. Wildlife management is about habitat management combined with proper population sizes. The one factor that has the biggest impact on native plants and animals is water, more specifically, precipitation. As long as it keeps raining habitat quality seems to take care of itself. Once it stops, food supplies begin to shrink and animals are faced with hard times. Wildlife management is about anticipating the difficult times during the good times.
Growing natural wildlife food is not much different than growing an agricultural crop. It can really hurt when it does not rain. Drought can make things tough on the landscape for both plants and wildlife. Planning ahead to lessen the impacts of drought conditions is important to any farming, ranching or hunting operation. This is especially important when forecasts indicate a hot, dry summer may be in the near future. Landowners interested in wildlife management can follow a couple of common sense guidelines to lessen the impact of below-average rainfall on the animals found on their property.
Setting Goals for Management Success
First, focus on your management goals and practices. Do not stray from your objectives, but stick to it regardless of expected rainfall. When the rains return, your property will be ready. Also, be mindful of your budget and allow for flexibility in your activities. Always maintain a minimum amount
of ground cover. If possible, one to two feet of herbaceous cover throughout all seasons is best in grasslands and savannah habitats. This residual grass provides great fawning cover and promotes grassland bird reproduction.
Leaving herbaceous cover for the next rainfall event provides healthy plants that offer the necessary food and cover for many wildlife species. The ability to leave standing cover means having a plan to reduce livestock numbers in the pasture and/or move livestock to irrigated crop land or improved pastures. During extended droughts, landowners may be faced with removing livestock all together. Along with cattle, maintaining whitetail deer and feral hog populations within the habitat’s carrying capacity will help reduce the potential for damage. Recreational hunting can be fun, but herd harvest to protect resources can become time consuming.
Proper Carrying Capacity Maintains Habitat
By reducing the number of consumers on the land, land managers can maintain the minimum desired grass cover, which helps local wildlife big time. Second, maintain as many wildlife and livestock water locations as possible, especially during the hot, dry months in arid to semi-arid areas. A good rule-of-thumb density would be one water location every 400 acres. Although this may not be possible in every area, the even distribution of water will spread wildlife evenly across the property.
Keep water in mind when setting up a property for wildlife. Hot and windy days will accelerate evaporation rates and can make it very difficult to maintain large surface ponds. However, it may still be possible and economically friendly to maintain wildlife-friendly watering troughs and stations. Food is important too. Many properties provide supplemental feed during drought. This is the last resort to maintain wildlife body condition and survival. The ability to feed wildlife (and livestock) may minimize the impacts on your habitat, but prolonged supplementing will impact your bank account and eventually the habitat.
Habitat Diversity is Wildlife Management
Good habitat can just about grow itself as long as it keeps raining, but habitat manipulation and planning ahead can enhance your wildlife management efforts many times over. All areas will eventually revert back to dry times, so manage native plants, especially brush, and livestock in such a manner to take advantage of rainfall. Just be ready to reduce domestic grazing animals and harvest excess deer as needed. Like an investor, plan for both the good times and the bad. It seems maintaining diversity is the best defense when it comes to wildlife management as well as financial investments.