Whether you are fortunate enough to be a private landowner or perhaps are a member of a hunting club, the efforts you make in habitat improvement on your acreage will benefit the native wildlife for years to come. Let’s take a look at some of the things you should consider doing now that will yield the greatest improvements in your current habitat.
Start by doing a survey of what native plants that benefit wildlife are already established throughout your property, and include some sketches of their locations. Desirable native tree species might include white and red oaks (white oaks being the preferred specie to deer and turkeys), beech (the beech nut crop usually occurs every 2 or 3 years but is highly sought by grouse, turkey, deer, and bear), black cherry, ash, and hickory. Some nearby trees that are of little value to wildlife, such as birch, might be removed for firewood or to create brush piles – otherwise, there is little that needs to be done for the existing native trees.
Shrubs such as elderberries, blueberries, and huckleberries are desirable, along with raspberries and blackberries. Wild grape vines are quite beneficial and a great food source for grouse and turkeys. List them on your survey and note them on your maps. As soon as time permits, any of these plants can be fertilized with 10-10-10. A cupful of this blend should be scattered around the base of elderberries or blueberry bushes and sprinkled throughout the base of raspberry and blackberry stems. This can be done in the spring and fall.
You are fortunate indeed if you have any well-established old apple trees on your property, as they are a great food source for a variety of wildlife species. Prune out any dead or broken branches and limbs, and spread several cups of 10-10-10 fertilizer along the dripline of the furthest branches. Remove any competing trees growing just outside or within the dripline so that all available nutrients benefit the apple tree. If the apple tree is in a forested area, you might consider removing more trees around the apple tree so as to provide more sunlight to the apple tree.
Now add to your list and sketches the names and locations of any trees and shrubs you may have added in the past. These younger tree and shrub seedlings will need to be examined closely for any winter damage, such as deer browsing, ice or storm damage, or ringing of the bark at the base by rodents. Prune out any damaged limbs or branches and fertilize these plants – again, with a blend of 10-10-10. Make a note and place a piece of survey tape on any seedling that has died over the winter or is damaged beyond repair and will need to be replaced.
Finally, let’s turn our attention to food plots. These include any established or planned areas that can range from ¼ acre to several acres in size, as well as well as logging roadbeds and roadsides and landing sites adjoining logging roads. It is extremely important to take adequate soil samples, have them properly analyzed, and then – most importantly – follow the recommendations of the analysis as to lime and fertilizer applications. List and include on your maps these food plots, and mark on your maps just where the soil samples were taken.
To some, this survey and accompanying map may seem like a waste of time, but it is a very valuable tool as you review and plan your next steps to improve the habitat for wildlife. It will identify what you have, what you might be able to add, and just what grows well throughout your site. These records are a key addition to an overall wildlife management plan for your property, and such a plan will be necessary if you ever want to apply for some of the government aid or assistance programs that are available to help fund some of the work you might want to do.
In the next installment, we’ll take a closer look at just what you can do in a woodland setting to better your habitat for wildlife, focusing on what has proven to grow best and provide the highest yield in our neck of the woods. Meanwhile, take these important first steps to establish this part of an overall wildlife management plan and finally enjoy some time outdoors doing so!