The Wild Side: Finding good habitat is key to finding wildlife
My first college level wildlife course was appropriately named Wildlife 101. It was a pretty basic class, but it covered a lot of material with broad strokes-everything from individual wildlife species information to how to write a memo. We learned about basic concepts like most limiting factors, least limiting factors and habitat.
All wildlife needs can be fit into one of three categories: food, water and cover.
Or at least they used to be. Now we teach our hunter safety students that wildlife needs food, water, cover and space. That’s right-the wildlife management topics I learned as a freshman in college are presented at their most basic level to every 12-year-old who takes hunter safety.
So 12-year-olds know that all wildlife have varying food, water, cover and space needs. If you find the right overlap of these habitat components, you will find wildlife. If you find a spot between the components, wildlife will come to you.
When we manage State Wildlife Areas, we try to put a quality combination of components together. In the Northwoods, we use timber harvest to put the best possible combination of wildlife habitat components together. Cutting trees usually gives us an increase of food and cover by stimulating growth of ground cover plants and young saplings that spring up in dense patches. You will also see we have logging trails and tree-free clearings called wildlife openings. These clearings are beneficial for wildlife for finding food, displaying to potential mates, traveling through their habitat, even foraging areas for their offspring. One thing you won’t see in our forested properties is a food plot.
Private landowners, who own their land for hunting, routinely contact me to discuss how they manage their land. They often ask me for food plot recommendations or ask what I think of their current planting species. On our properties, we will sometimes plant clover and alsike on logging roads that have disturbed soil. Otherwise, we do very little planting.
Most landowners I talk to plant turnips or sugar beets. The deer munch on the tops during the growing season. Once the ground freezes and food in the woods becomes increasingly scarce, they will come back and paw up the ground to get to the rest of the plants.
Most of these landowners are thinking about planting annual plants. This is very labor intensive; the ground has to be cultivated every spring, planted, maybe weeded or sprayed during the growing season. Equipment and implements are necessary, and you have to get the work done as soon as you can in the spring to take full advantage of our relatively short growing season. Then, if you have soil acidity or fertility issues, you may not even get a crop. Or wildlife may dig up the seeds or seedlings early in the season, and it will be unavailable to wildlife in the fall and winter.
One option that people do not often consider is planting wildlife shrubs. A friend of mine is interested in doing just that. There are several species of shrubs, like ninebark, dogwood, nannyberry, and hazelnut that fit the wildlife shrub category.
These are attractive to wildlife like ruffed grouse, birds, deer, squirrels and bears. You can order wildlife shrubs from the Wisconsin DNR tree nursery right now into the winter; you can find more information by calling the DNR forester in your area, or searching “tree planting” on the DNR website.
You can also order wildlife shrubs from private nurseries. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is a Federal agency that also provides private land wildlife habitat consultation; they have lists of beneficial trees and shrubs, and they can even help you determine if you are eligible for financial assistance or cost sharing. Finally, you can contact your local DNR wildlife biologist and discuss your habitat management practices with them. If we can’t help you, we can direct you to someone who can.
Jeremy Holtz is a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR and writes a weekly column in the Star Journal. To contact him, call 715-365-8999.