Most people would agree that if you are serious about accomplishing a goal, you need a plan. This becomes even more critical when you are looking at a complex set of goals and time and money may be limited. Such just might be the case if you are a landowner, member of a hunting club that owns its own property, or want to help in bettering the hunting and habitat at one of your favorite hunting destinations. A management plan is key to success whether you are dealing with just a few acres or hundreds of acres. So, how does one go about setting up such a plan?
The first step is to accomplish a current inventory of the property’s assets. How many acres do you have to work with? What is the makeup of the acreage — fallow fields, cropland, woodlots, hedgerows or forested tracts? What is the terrain — level ground, sloping hillsides or a combination of the two? Is there water somewhere on the property — a small creek, stream or pond? What cover and what food are provided on the property by the existing vegetation? And finally, what species of wildlife have frequently been sighted on the property, and are they living there or merely passing through? When all of these listings are complete, incorporate them as the beginning of your plan, so that you have a basis from which to start.
Next, make a list of realistic goals that you hope to accomplish as far as the changes or additions you would like to implement. This is really a two-part segment of your overall plan, first identifying what species of wildlife you would like to make changes for and secondly, what changes will you make.
Is your main interest in improving the deer hunting on your property? Or do you want to increase the successful hunting of spring or fall turkeys on your land? If you are a rabbit hunter or an upland game hunter who wants better grouse hunting, there are numerous things you can do for each of these game animals and birds — some improvements may be expensive to implement and time-consuming, and yet, some are low cost and take little time to complete. Initially, you need to list the wildlife species you want to benefit most and then list whether you desire to provide better cover or better food sources, or both — depending on the initial inventory of the land’s resources that you have completed.
Establish a section of your plan for the management of your fields and open areas and another section for the management of your woodlots and forested tracts. You can liken caring for either the fields or the woods like caring for a vegetable garden. In a vegetable garden, you must continually eliminate weeds and sometimes fertilize the vegetable plants. If you do not, the aggressive weeds will soon overtake the good plants, and the garden will not be productive.
The very same occurs if you leave fields or woods completely unattended. The fields will be slowly taken over by undesirable, invasive species such as multiflora rose, autumn olive, barberry and Tartarian honeysuckle. Periodic mowing, and perhaps occasional spraying, should keep these things in check and benefit the desirable plants that you want to promote.
Woodlots and forests in north central Pennsylvania can easily become overrun with undesirable species such as striped maple and New York or hay-scented ferns. Spraying of herbicides is the most effective way of eliminating both of these invasive plants. Based on your goals for your desired species of wildlife, you might also consider some type or types of harvesting some of the trees. A timber stand improvement with emphasis on removing less desirable trees and leaving the healthier and more desirable species is usually a good step to include in your plan, and it may provide some income that can be used to complete other projects in your plan. Clearcuts are usually not recommended over large areas, but when accomplished in small plots, can create beneficial openings in an otherwise completely forested area.
Once you have completed these steps and you have all of your ideas in writing, it is time to turn to the “experts” so that they may analyze and help fine-tune your game plan. They can help develop a timetable for your overall plan and suggest some programs that may be available to maximize your time and help control costs. We’ll look at that in the next installment.