The 40 Acre Farm
Hopefully over the last 10 weeks, you have acquired a better understanding of the land management practices that Leopold mentioned; the axe, cow, plow, fire, and gun. Hopefully, you have all ready started thinking how to use each of the tools on your property. As most are aware, land fragmentation (large properties being split into numerous small properties) has many conservationist on edge since land fragmentation has been cited as a possible reason many wildlife populations have decreased. Well, it appears we might as well get used to the issue and start managing around it. As the saying goes, "when life throws you lemons, make lemonade."
On the positive side of land fragmentation, just because a property used to be 1000 acres does not mean it was good habitat. Many past (and present) land uses had negative impacts on habitat. The biggest problems which come to mind are conversion of native prairie to 'improved' pastures and continuous grazing. After numerous land sells, the old 1000 acre ranch may now be several tracts averaging 10-50 acres and owned by several individuals. When looking back, do you realize that some of the best quail habitat was in the early 1900's when many farms were less than 100 acres (many were sharecropped)? By the way, good quail habitat may support one covey per 20-40 acres.
Back in the day, small farms provided ample habitat for ground birds, small game, and deer. Picture in your mind a 40 acre farm with some acreage used for row-cropping, some used for gardening, some for grazing farm animals (mules, cows, horses, etc), and lots of weeds and grown up hedgerows. This habitat provided an abundance of cover types (nesting, escape, and loafing just to name a few) as well as foraging areas for many species. Now, thinking about today's practices. This same scenario can be replicated using seasonal foodplots, periodic mowing and discing (2-3 year rotations), fenceline brush management, prescribed burning, rotational grazing, restoring native grasses, and limited hunting.
Additionally, the State of Texas has given landowners the opportunity to retain Agriculture valuations for wildlife management. This flexibility allows the landowner who is not concerned about income from livestock or farming to be able to manage for wildlife and recreation. In today's rural landscape, these landowners could have great positive impacts on wildlife. The previously mentioned 1000 acre fragmented and overgrazed ranch now may have the opportunity to be managed to promote wildlife habitat by many different landowners and be better for wildlife than it was previously.
Lastly, this part of the state is blessed to have many Wildlife Management Associations (WMA's) spread out on a county level. These associations are formed by many landowners of which most have some sort of common goal, most often better deer populations. These same WMA's may be the key to restoring certain species (quail) and even restoring a burning regime on a landscape basis through Prescribed Burn Associations.
Once again, try to start implementing these practices as you see fit and start making some lemonade. It is up to you, the private landowner, to make a difference by practicing 'on the ground' habitat management. After all, 97% of the state is privately owned.
If you would like to contact your local biologist, see our website at; http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/ wildlifebiologist.