By: Larry Foster, RF
As we move into the fall months, outdoor enthusiasts with a keen interest in hunting or deer observation find themselves engaged in the meticulous preparation of game food plots, such as mowing, discing, spreading lime and fertilizer and planting winter forage crop seeds. Many hunters will also load corn feeders. While food plots and feeders have proven to be effective in drawing wildlife, there exist alternative strategies for enhancing wildlife edge habitat, which provides nutrient-rich natural forage at a substantially reduced cost.
One such method involves the establishment of Streamside Management Zones (SMZs) during timber harvest operations. These SMZs serve as protective buffers along creeks and drainages that cross a property. The creation of SMZs involves removing approximately half of the tree crown cover while retaining mast-producing trees like oaks, hickories, and beech.
By opening up these areas to sunlight, the tree crowns expand and produce more mast. Increased light reaching the ground stimulates growth of vines and fruiting bushes along the edges of the SMZ strips. Notably, blackberries, greenbriar, American beautyberry, and wild grape multiply in these areas, consequently providing a bountiful source of food for deer, turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, and songbirds
Daylight strips alongside woods roads consist of areas that are kept free of trees. This allows more sunlight to reach the road for faster drying. Many properties have additional openings that can also be mowed and disced to maintain disturbed soil, including firebreaks, thinning lanes, log decks and skid trails. It is not necessary to plant anything as annual plants favored by wildlife such as native grasses, pokeweed, ragweed and old field aster, will self-seed.
Fertilizing natural vegetation serves as an additional way to increase the nutritional value of vegetation already present. This is nothing more than walking through areas with blackberry vines, briars and other vegetation with balanced fertilizer in a hand crank spreader. This stimulates better tasting, new and tender growth ultimately benefiting the local wildlife population.
For landowners with mature timber and willingness to allocate more resources, prescribed burning represents a viable option. Most landowners need the assistance of a forester or certified burner to perform this activity. Burning creates a parklike understory for increased visibility, reduces undesired small hardwood trees such as sweetgum and stimulates fresh succulent plant growth. All of these activities favor wildlife that live on the edges.
In conclusion, the cultivation of wildlife edge habitat presents an opportunity to create a thriving, balanced ecosystem that caters to the needs of both hunters and wildlife enthusiasts. These methods, whether it be through Streamside Management Zones, daylight strips, natural vegetation fertilization, or prescribed burning, enable landowners to foster a sustainable and flourishing environment for wildlife at a very low cost.