Try to make your land wildlife friendly
Published 1:24 am Friday, January 2, 2004
One of the most remarkable attributes of this great country is the overall abundance and diversity of our wildlife. From border to border and coast to coast every foot of land that isn't covered with asphalt teems with birds, animals, reptiles and insects. However, with our human population expanding at a frightening pace that's soon going to change if we don't mend our ways. To avoid having our wildlife relegated to only a few parks and preserves like other settled countries, each and every land owner must do their part to provide suitable habitat. The DNR can't do it, The Nature Conservancy and Sierra Club can't do it. It's up to you and me and all our neighbors. Now I can see farmer's hackles beginning to rise already, "Here we go, another tree hugging fern sniffer wanting to turn my farm into a chippy-bird preserve while my family starves." Quite to the contrary. Productive land use and wildlife enhancement can compliment each other to the benefit of all. It only takes a different mind set.
Whether we have a working farm or just a half acre get-away it's our nature to want everything neat and tidy. Though a park-like setting is appealing to us it offers very little for wildlife. There are a myriad of little things we can do or, more importantly, not do, to make our property more wildlife friendly. The benefits derived are not just on nature's end, either. Just one example: more birds, animals, reptiles and amphibians on your property would help keep insect and rodent problems at bay, lessening pesticide costs and grain loss.
Let's think about what we can do to make a difference. Nearly every farm has some amount of woodlots. Recently Dave Hadley, a forestry advisor out of Niles, and I toured my property checking out the woodlands. I've pretty much ascribed to letting nature take its course but Dave showed me that's not always best. He pointed out where aggressive, fast growing trees such as cherry were crowding out the smaller oaks, hickory and walnuts, causing the latter to die. By thinning for proper spacing I would have a variety of nut and berry producing trees providing much better wildlife habitat. As a side benefit, the trees would grow properly to command much higher timber value in the future.
Since I'm not interested in selling the timber Dave suggested I simply girdle the unwanted trees. The resulting snags would provide a haven for cavity nesting birds, all of which happen to be insect eaters. When the snags finally fell they would provide cover for ground dwelling wildlife. Logs and litter left lying on the ground also help to hold moisture in the soil.
One of the most important wildlife habitats is the transitional areas between field and forest, swamp or whatever. Farmers understandably want to plant every foot of land they can so they plow right up to the edge of the timber or marsh. Typically, though, those last few outside rows are in marginal soil and light conditions and grow so poorly that little is gained. Leave those poor producing areas for upland birds that will pay their keep in grasshopper and other crop damaging insect consumption. Likewise with fencerows. Sacrifice a row of crops on either side and leave them wide, brushy and grown over.
Be wildlife friendly. Time your hay mowing and chemical spraying to avoid late May and June when the fields hold newborn fawns and baby birds. Leave a vegetation buffer along waterways. Leave dead snags standing for woodpeckers, flycatchers, owls and ducks. Make brush piles for rabbits and put up some blue bird houses. Let those swallow nests hang from the eaves, the birds are far better at insect control than any bug zapper.
These are just a few examples of the things we land owners must do if we are to retain our bountiful wildlife. None cost any money or require great sacrifice or labor. They're simple little things that if we all do together will make a huge difference. Carpe diem.
Larry Lyons writes a weekly outdoor column for Leader Publications. He can be reached at email@example.com