By Mark Fike
If you own some property, it’s probably your dream to see it abound with wildlife.
Everyone has a different idea of what they may want from the property they own, but I know that as a landowner I had hoped to be able to hunt my property with regularity and take deer and small game from it.
Since the first year I owned the small tract of land where we live, my desires have changed somewhat and I have put together a plan to make my dreams come alive.
Here is what I learned along the way.
One of the first things a landowner should do is assess or inventory the wildlife that uses the property. This can be done informally by scouting for tracks, hunting, taking photos, using game cams or even asking surrounding landowners what they know about the property.
Take stock of the trees and plants on the property and get to know the landscape. This can take a half dozen trips or more to do correctly depending on the size of the tract. Make notes on what you find.
Do your research to find out what types of plants and trees are native to your area that wildlife use.
Mast trees such as oaks, beech and hickory are very important, but so are soft mast trees and bushes such as paw-paws, fruit trees, persimmons, dogwood and others.
I would even recommend getting a topo map and an aerial photo of your property to use when walking it. You can use a cell phone with any of the numerous apps too. Do not forget to get a soil sample done at your local co-op extension office!
Next, have a certified forester and a wildlife biologist come out and look at your property. Listen closely to what she or he has to say about the health of your trees. Discuss wildlife with them.
You can try and arrange for both professionals to come out at the same time to work collaboratively on a plan to help you attract more wildlife.
Some states have great programs for this type of project—for instance, Virginia has a Forest Stewardship Program.
This program costs very little and gives the landowner valuable information on what programs are available to them to enhance their property with some assistance.
A forester will come out, assess the property, write a report and make recommendations according to your goals.
If your goal is to attract wildlife, the forester will not only make recommendations, but he or she will enlist the help of a biologist too.
There are also federal cost-share programs you can ask your local forester
or wildlife biologist about. These can make your project more affordable.
Often wildlife habitat can be created at a small cost. Sometimes you can make a little money to help pay for creating new habitat by having a select timber cut done. Be sure to consult your forester first!
Creating wildlife habitat is not all about planting a food plot. The best wildlife habitat is natural.
Edge habitat is important. Study your property and determine what you have and do not have.
At my property I had loads of gum and poplar trees, which are not particularly good for wildlife. I had a portion of them logged and now I am beginning to thin out smaller gums and poplars that were not harvested. I am cleaning up the debris and readying the tract for planting.
With some guidance from the local USDA agent, wildlife biologists, and the state forester, I have decided on a good mix of evergreen trees such as loblolly pines for windbreak and cover. Deer like to bed in them, turkey like to roost, and songbirds love to roost and rest in them.
I will also be planting sawtooth oaks for a good food source for deer, turkey and squirrel. I am cutting out some irregular shaped fields, which will be planted each summer for dove, rabbit and other birds. The fields will provide an area for insects to come and for turkey and quail to find bugs in them.
By thinning out the non-productive trees, I have allowed the “good” trees to shoot up with more light available.
Once your large projects are underway, you can begin hitting the smaller items.
“Daylight” your paths and roads. You do this by cutting back the edges to allow more light in. More light means more understory, which is good for all animals. Do the same on the edges of fields.
Next, disc the edges of fields and turn the soil over to allow it to aerate. Bush hogging is ok, but using a disc to turn under the soil is much better.
Finally, maintain trails and build bird boxes. Go online and search for plans for bird boxes.
If you have water on your property, it may be a good idea to put up some duck boxes too. Bat boxes are a good idea, as are owl boxes.
Have the forester and wildlife biologist come out on a regular basis (every few years) to make more recommendations.
Your property enhancement is a work in progress at all times.
Trim a little here, cut back there, and most of all enjoy!
A little sweat investment will reap you game and memories down the road.