Managing Brush for Wildlife
The economic benefits of brush control on productive soil sites are proven facts in most areas of the state, but total removal of all brush species on a ranch is disastrous to existing wildlife populations. In recent years, the value of ranch lands which have sufficient brush cover to support wildlife populations has increased at a faster rate than the value of those lands which are void of brush or woody vegetations.
Some animals that require brush or woody vegetation are deer, turkey, quail, rabbits, and neotropical songbirds. These animals need the brush for different things. Deer, quail, rabbits, and turkey use it for escape cover and thermal cover. Turkey and neotropicals will use certain types of woody species for nesting opportunities. All of the above will utilize different types of brush for food, whether they are browsing the plant itself or utilizing the fruits produced.
One of the questions often asked is, "Can I manage for both livestock and wildlife on a profitable basis?" The answer is most definitely, "Yes", and this is especially applicable on ranges where wildlife habitat and wildlife populations already exist. One of the primary objectives of a sound management program is to assure that plans provide for leaving adequate food and cover for wildlife after brush control operations.
A very basic rule in wildlife management is to manage for plant diversity when addressing the habitat. When looking at your brush management program you want to keep this rule in mind. Don't eradicate the brush, but create islands or a mosaic of brushy areas interspersed with openings. By creating these openings, you will be fostering grasses and forbs which are of high importance to wildlife species while keeping that important screening cover. Also, always try to protect the brush along creeks or drainages. These are natural travel corridors for wildlife and the brush helps reduce erosion.
There are several methods you can use to control brush. There are mechanical means such as roller choppers, dozers, etc. Chemical control is another method. Finally, fire or prescribed burning is a low cost method. It depends on the terrain, soils, type of woody coverage, budget, and man power on which method makes the most sense for you. However, remember the diversity rule of thumb. Try to employ the method that will result in the maximum number of different plant species when complete.
So what if you are devoid of any brush and would like to get some woody vegetation established? This is a much tougher scenario. Obviously, you could try to plant different brush species, but this is extremely costly and time consuming. Another method is to create fenced off or protected areas where mowing and grazing won't occur. Those fence wires and posts allow perching birds a place to land and eventually certain brush species will start popping up. This will also take a long time, but there aren't any good alternatives.
Just remember that some brush or woody vegetation is a good thing if you are interested in managing of wildlife.
If you would like to contact your local biologist, go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us/wildlifebiologist.