Plan for Habitat Now
February 15, 2021
Despite the chill of winter settling in across the region, now is the time for making spring plans for habitat work. Whether it's a ranching, farming or conservation-focused operation, landowners have more technology and options at their fingers than ever before, and a host of helpers across the upper Midwest to connect them with the programs that not only help create and preserve habitat which maintains populations of big game, waterfowl and upland birds; but also increases productivity and profitability on their acres. Making that connection comes from managing the micro and macro aspects of their land, according to Tanner Bruse, Ag & Conservation Programs Manager for Pheasants Forever, and gearing their habitat goals to fit into the world around them with the government and non-government programs available is key to successful conservation.
A Focused Plan
"One of the things that sometimes gets overlooked, but is in my opinion one of the most critical, would be the land preparation prior to that planting, that's really a metric that will guide you to successful establishment of the habitat you're planting," Bruse explains, adding that taking into account the area beyond the owned acres is important, "look at not only your property but the surrounding area and figure out what the need is that is going to attract the birds."
Oftentimes, plans include intricate plantings of shrubs, brushlines, shelterbelts and even food plots, but in an agricultural setting, food considerations may not be necessary. Instead, Bruse recommends that producers take a look at their land and the surrounding environment and plan from there with a focus for upland game on plantings that will help provide excellent nesting and brood-rearing habitat, as these are the most important spaces when it comes to building the next generation of upland birds. Secondarily, if winter cover is lacking on the landscape and the possibility to create or preserve a lower area for cattail sloughs and other thicker cover exists, it can be added as a consideration, but the focus should remain on turning eggs into next year's crop of roosters.
"The reality is, brood rearing and nesting habitat are what's going to drive populations on your acreage," Bruse states, "so not overlooking the fact that you need a place for these pheasants to nest and you also need a place for the hens and the brood to run around and find insects in spring is important," he concludes.
Pheasants Forever boasts the largest nationwide network of any non-governmental organization devoted to assisting landowners with habitat efforts on their lands. From their network of Farm Bill Biologists, now well over 150 throughout the country, to their growing staff of Precision Ag Specialists, the organization has both the knowledge of the programs available for conservation on private land, and the connection to technology to identify areas perfect for those programs and the acres that are most productive for planting and harvesting of crops.
"The ability to take the data that the farmer is already gathering and turn it into profitability and profitability mapping, we can identify the areas that are revenue-negative and not producing at the same level as the rest of the field, year after year whether it's wet or dry, and identify those acres and then look at opportunities on how we can boost profits and look at conservation alternatives," Bruse relates of the precision agriculture process, before biologists implement the programs that are most beneficial to producers' bottom line.
Through the continuous sign-up of Conservation Reserve Program and other state and federal options, PF helps connect landowners with beneficial habitat programs for marginal acres. Currently, in partnership with Purina, the organization is implementing its successful Soil Health and Habitat program to put more grassland acres in the ground via a generous stipend funded by the well-known pet food company. For more information on habitat programs, or to get in touch with a Farm Bill Biologist or Precision Ag Specialist, visit pheasantsforever.org and click on the conservation tab. With just a few weeks until snow begins to melt and things warm up across the region, habitat planting isn't too far off and the sounds of a crowing spring rooster will be guaranteed for seasons to come.