The Art of Purposeful Habitat Manipulation
I’ll say one thing, Texans are not afraid to purposefully manipulate a little habitat to create ideal conditions for wildlife and to restore rangelands.
As a wildlife biologist for Hall and Hall I spend quite a bit of time viewing aerial imagery of properties I work with. Being able to see and study the “big picture” greatly helps me do my job better when developing habitat management plans that involve the implementation of mechanical, chemical or prescribed fire techniques to create specific outcomes. These “outcomes” generally revolve around creating the best habitat possible for particular wildlife species such as deer, turkey, and quail and/or recovering rangelands for grazing operations.
Over the years, through tedious research projects, managers have begun to better understand how wildlife, especially game species such as those mentioned earlier actually use their environment. More importantly we continue to learn what vegetative structure, species, and spatial distribution of those plants creates the ideal habitat for wildlife to thrive in. Knowing this information, our job as wildlife biologists has evolved into understanding how to manipulate the habitat to give us the best opportunity to successfully create the desired environment so that a particular specie or species can thrive.
For example, south Texas is a land of mixed brush species that can and will support a plethora of wildlife species and livestock grazing endeavors. Deer, quail, and cattle tend to be the main focus in this area, therefore it is important to create and sustain a wide diversity of grasses, forbs, and brush species. The thicker the brush the better it is for whitetails, yet quail prefer more open country and cattle do as well. Therefore, as a manager, purposefully creating a mosaic landscape dominated by forbs and grass with patches of dense brush allows us to reach a “common ground” that is good for all vested interests. Examples below.
Moving down into the south Texas coastal area we get into the deep sandy soils and sand sheets areas that are capable of supporting very high quail populations. As a manager in this area we are looking for a simple technique such discing, that allows us to lightly disturb the soil and thus promote an abundance of forb and warm season grass production. Being able to evenly distribute these actions across the landscape creates a larger expanse of usable space for the quail. This particular area covers about 3,000 acres.
Then there are those places where, well let’s just say the main interest is deer and the person on the dozer and roller chopper has a lot of time, money and ability to express their creativity. This technique produces an abundance of vegetative “edge”, creates open areas of forb and grass growth, and maintains a dense brush appearance. I have to say this design would be hard to work cattle around and likely hard to hunt quail in but if deer is your game, if would make for fantastic country to rattle in during November and December as well as it is well suited for observing from tower blinds.
Now as one moves north in Texas, we lose the great brush diversity of south Texas and come into areas that are generally dominated by single species such as mesquite and/or juniper. In situations such as this total removal is not uncommon…albeit great for grazing operations, the wide open, newly created expanses of grassland do little for wildlife species such as deer, quail, and turkey that could create an additional form of income to a landowner. In these images, junipers are removed via excavators from the flat land areas, then pushed into long rows, and eventually separated into piles for burning when conditions allow. The remaining trees are left in the rougher canyons and draws where it is unsafe to move equipment into.
As a wildlife biologist I’m not a big fan of total brush/tree removal. In a situation such as this, it would be easy enough to leave 10%-20% of the beneficial woody species and some juniper or mesquite to allow for the possibility of quail and deer populations to be sustained. These areas as well provide some shade to cattle in the summer and cover from ice and snow in the winter.
There are really no limits when it comes to brush manipulation designs but some are cheaper (straight lines) than others (curved). An important point to remember when considering brush manipulation is that once a bush or tree is removed it will take a similar plant 10-20 years to regrow. In addition, many invasive grass and forb species are readily predisposed to dominant a newly manipulated site. Taking all of this into consideration it is best to seek guidance and consultation with a professional to ensure your objectives have the best oppor