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2009-06-04 digital edition

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2009-06-04 / Community News

The Basics of Habitat Management

When managing for wildlife, it would be safe to say that just about any practice of wildlife management could fit into one of three categories; habitat management, population management (for the species of interest), and people management. Over the next 10 weeks, we are going to cover the basics of habitat management.

Aldo Leopold is considered the 'father' of modern day wildlife management. Leopold was a forester/biologist by profession in the early 1900's and many of his ideas are valid today.

One of his most noted quotes comes from his book, Game Management (1933), in which he states "… game (wildlife) can be restored by the creative use of the same tools which have heretofore destroyed it- axe, cow, plow, fire, and gun."

During Leopolds time, and even today, the above mentioned practices can have detrimental effects on wildlife populations when used incorrectly, but when used correctly they can benefit wildlife and be used as effective tools.

When speaking of the axe, now a days this can refer to any method of removing or restoring vegetation, whether it be a dozer, a chainsaw, or logging equipment such as feller bunchers and shears. When used incorrectly, these tools can clear massive amounts of land.

During Leopolds time (early 1900's) vast amounts of forest were being cut to the point of exploitation. This overharvest drastically effected wildlife populations. These same tools can be used to manipulate forest and

brush infested properties to create ideal habitat.

The cow, simply refers to grazing by livestock, whether it be a cow, goat, or sheep. Prior to European arrival, the prairies were grazed periodically by grazing buffalo and other wildlife species. Grazing can be a very beneficial tool when used in moderation. Many species, quail being one, are dependent on some sort of cattle grazing to prevent grasses from becoming rank and thick. However, overgrazing (cattle) or overbrowsing (goats) can have very detrimental effects on wildlife habitat.

The plow, when used in moderation can be very beneficial. In the early 1900's when most farms were in the 40-100 acre size, small scale row cropping mixed with grazing pastures and hedgerows was very beneficial. This farming landscape provided bare ground as well as supplemental feed for many species. However, large scale farming from ditch to ditch has done away with much of this. We will discuss in future articles the importance of periodic discing and food plots to benefit wildlife.

Fire, this one category scares many landowners. The simple truth is that most of Texas developed under periodic burns. The removal of fire from the landscape has allowed for the encroachment of brush and the heavy infestations of yaupon and cedar. Fire must be returned to the landscape to better habitat conditions.

Lastly, the gun. During the 1800's and early 1900's 'market' hunting really impacted wildlife populations. This was basically unregulated 'free for all' type hunting where 'hunters' sold there quarry to the local markets. Today, 'sport' hunting is critical for several species, mainly large ungulates such as the whitetailed deer. Without sport hunting, deer could overpopulate to the point of habitat destruction where some species of vegetation may totally disappear from the landscape.

Please stay with us over the next 10 weeks as we discuss 'the basics' of wildlife management more in depth.

If you would like to contact your local biologist, see our website at; http:// www.tpwd.state.tx.us/ wildlifebiologist.

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