A little something on permaculture in town

Someday, we’ll talk about the irony of a rural land man that lives in town. But for today, we’re going to take a quick look at a short and easy permaculture strategy you can utilize, even if you live in town. Probably not if you live in an HOA, though. 🙂

What you’re seeing in the pictures below is a pecan tree race. Now, a pecan tree race is much slower than, say, NASCAR. It takes a lot of patience. Originally, I put some swales in to capture and hold rainwater. And they worked wonderfully. Every time it rains in my neighborhood, the ancient waterway begins to run, and I capture and hold a magnificent amount of rainwater.

What I did NOT take into account was the planting succession. For whatever reason, my system of swales would not hold any of the useful food crops I planted. Everything died. I tried blackberries, figs, peaches, mushroom logs, and a couple of willow trees. (Willow trees aren’t edible, I know – But they are useful. And my daughter wanted one.) Nothing lived in any of the locations I tried. Finally I gave up, and let mother nature claim her own. Even buying fruit trees on sale became an expensive and losing proposition. And what DID grow there were native and some adapted species that thrive in North Texas. I’ve got a couple of species of ragweed that grow well here. Both the obnoxious kind that makes a gazillion seed heads if left unattended, and also the greater species of ragweed that burns your skin when you try to pull it. And, the greater ragweed grows really nice and tall, and the city will, in fact, bust your chops on that one.

But the best thing that started growing in the yard was native pecan trees. Now, we already have two mature pecan trees on our 1/2 acre. There can only be so many trees on such a small parcel. But they propagate like weeds! If you were to leave one pecan tree out alone in nature, in one year’s dropping, you’d have thousands of seedling pecan trees. I’ve seen it happen, year in year out since we moved here.

Well, this one particular area of the yard is pretty far back, and pretty well unused, and the swales make it hard to mow back there. So rather than beat up my head up against the wall trying to keep Mother Nature at bay, I decided to embrace her and let her do whatever it is she’s going to do. And in this case, Mother Nature wants to grow pecan trees.

I’d go out there and look at the new shoots, and the ones that seemed to grow best, and thrive hardest, I’d trim their lower branches so the strong ones would grow just a little taller and a little straighter. Then, a couple of times a year, I’d go out and look again, and trim again. I’d trim back hard in the fall, and then trim again hard in the early spring. (And when I say, “trim hard” remember that the tree was first pencil big, then finger big, then stick big, etc. We’re not talking about days worth of brush clearing)

Now, 4 or 5 years later, I have what looks like a pretty clear winner. I’m going to keep the contest going for another few years, just in case something happens to Mr. Big, but at some point, all the non-winners will have to be trimmed back and turned into compost. To use permaculture nomenclature, this whole area of my yard would be like a Zone 4/Zone 5. Zone 4 being lightly managed for timber (or nut harvest) and Zone 5 being completely left unattended. Let me give you a brief tour, by way of a couple of pictures.

Now, if you’ll take a closer look at the photo, look beyond the pecan tree grove and you’ll see a chaste vitex tree and a wall of overgrowth. This is the top swale in my landscape, the highest portion of the property. This is where the water from the streambed enters the property. Over the years, various homebuilders and developers have modified and altered the waterway, to the extent that they dumped their fill and excess there, but, generally speaking, the waterway still runs between the two rows of homes. This is really “the wild area” of the yard. I did plant a native persimmon tree back there, and it does well back there. I shaped that portion of the land to have lots and lots of edge. By “edge,” I mean I built small, curvy islands with lots of shoreline (relative to the size of the space). I am hoping that frogs and toads will begin to habitate that area. The Chaste Vitex tree is not native to North Texas, but has been grown in North America for over 300 years. [Chaste vitex] I like the Vitex because it does well in Texas, and provides ample habitat for all types of pollinators. I compost all kinds of stuff back here. Pizza boxes and other pure brown cardboard compost easily, and no one can see them. They soak up the water that comes through the waterway and fall flat to the ground, in short order. I also compost large tree branches and/or logs, scrap lumber and anything that’s too large or bulky for the normal compost heap. This system has been in place for several seasons, and you can easily see all the organic matter developing behind the swale.

The area in front of the Chaste Vitex tree is the pecan tree race track. The pecan tree that’s winning the race is nearly square in the middle of this small plot. This small parcel, in particular, has been the biggest challenge to keep mowed and looking somewhat neat. Well, neat isn’t the right word. “Neighbors less likely to call the city” is probably a better way to say it. I finally broke down, and re-shaped the swale, so that I can get the mower back there. It won’t hold water as well as before, but I had to do something to knock the jungle back ‘some‘ considering I do, in fact, have neighbors. In this area, in addition to the pecan trees, I have lantana, which is a Texas native, and native sunflowers. I’ve got some native sunflowers that grow higher up in the yard, closer to the house. When these go to seed in later summer, we always cut the heads off and throw them down here. They grow if they can. There’s also some a mustard plant you can see if you look to the right, at the corner of the barn. I tried a keyhole garden here, and it didn’t work. I’m letting the mustard plant go to seed before I dig the whole thing up. The mustard plant will provide early spring food for pollinators. I keep thinking I should just break down and go buy a small bag of Texas highway mix. Bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, Mexican hat, and primrose line almost all of Texas highways and provide food for native pollinators, and are pretty to look at.

Ultimately, what I’m creating here is a space of native North Texas forest. A small patch, yes. but a spot nontheless. I saw a video on FB the other day, and there is a new growing method that’s taking Europe by storm, and the idea is to create hundreds and thousands of these “micro-forests.” I didn’t know it was a trend, but that’s exactly what I’m doing, only slightly less intentional. Rather than intentional, massive plantings, I’m largely relying on what wants to grow there. In other words, I’m lazy and don’t want to cut the grass. 🙂

A few weeks ago, we were taking a family walk in a park near us. In some locations of Dallas/Fort Worth, they’ve done a good job with creating public spaces that remain more wild than bulldozing everything in sight. Bear Creek Parkway in Keller is one such area. As I was walking, and thinking, and observing, I saw my backyard in 50 years. I’m unlikely to ever see that area reach it’s climax, and the bulldozers may get to it before it can get a chance to fully mature, but I hope not. I’ve created a little tiny, native micro-forest that if left alone, will provide native flora and fauna for generations to come.

I would encourage everyone to think about little a portion of their yard, no matter how small, revert back to nature. You’ll be amazed by the results.

A little something on tomatoes

I am, by no means, an expert on growing tomatoes. But I have learned a couple of little things over the years and wanted to share them.

We used to live in El Paso, TX for about 7 or 8 years. You could actually grow a pretty decent garden in El Paso, if you had:
1) Shade – The sun there is brutal in the summer. You have to shade tomatoes from the afternoon sun.

2) Water. The Chihuahuan Desert is dry like a bone. If I remember right, average annual rainfall in 8-9″. But there was city water, recycled water, and a desalination plant. And if you lived in the river valley, you got water from the Rio Grande.

3) Soil. The soil was already really good in the river valley, and if you lived on higher ground, you could improve the sandy with organic matter in short order.

4) Because the climate there is so dry, you don’t have to worry so much about molds and fungi. Or mosquitoes. They just don’t grow very much there.

I have a specific memory when we were cleaning off the cherry tomato bush on New Years’ Day, in anticipation of a freeze that night. The bush was heavy-laden with ripe fruit on January 1.

But then we moved to Dallas-Fort Worth in 2014. I have found DFW particularly difficult environment to grow tomatoes. When I first here, I met with a local master gardener at the Farmer’s Market. She encouraged me to stay away from the bigger varieties, and stick with the tomatoes that stay small. These would be your Celebrities, Mortgage Lifters, and Early Girls. The master gardener said to stick to tomatoes that “are about the size of a tennis ball in your hand.”

The reason is that the last frost is typically scheduled for around tax day, April 15. Many experienced tomato gardeners have told me stories about trying to rush that and end up getting fooled by Mother Nature. And then, it gets so hot, so early, that the blooms will drop off, without making fruit. There’s a pretty long fall growing season around here, but I’ve had difficulty with getting the timing right.

One of the keys for successful tomato gardens is time. You have to devote daily attention to the plants. I’m sorry. That’s just the way it is. If you want to grow something you don’t have to attend to, you can grow a field of weeds. But tomatoes require daily care. When I was working in commercial construction, I never had enough time. I often times had to leave the house at 6:00 AM, or earlier, and I was often coming home at 6:00 PM, or later. Now, as I re-design my life, I’m really trying to devote a little TLC in the morning before I start my day. It seems to be working, as this is the best crop I’ve had.

Every morning, I go out to the tomato garden, pinch off suckers and unhealthy branches, tie-off what needs to be supported, look for pests, etc. I go out in the cool of the morning, before it gets hot, so it’s actually enjoyable. Four years ago, I built my garden bed with a woody core. What some of you may know as hugelkulture, except I built my wood structure BELOW ground, rather than woody mounds ABOVE the ground. Which to my limited understanding of German, I believe that a hugel is a mound, so it’s literally, “mound culture” Regardless, I have a wood core bed in my gardens, where the wood has now been decaying for 4-5 years. The benefits are really starting to show.

The tomatoes seem to be able to withstand the brutal temperatures that North Texas has to offer us this summer. I have added some water to them, but, overall, they seem very healthy. I’ve also tried to grow one tomato plant in a straw bales based on an interview I heard. So far, the results are favorable, and I can easily see incorporating this garden method into my current scheme.

You can see the tomato on the left is about to turn red. You can see the size of the tomatoes is about like a tennis ball.

I’m interested to see how these cherry tomatoes will fare this summer.

 

Flowers on July 15. Temperature is supposed to get up to 100 degrees today. Flowers will likely drop without producing fruit.

Ripe tomato in my hand for size comparison.

I’ve found that surveyor’s tape is the best way to stake a tomato plant.

Chickens love the compost pile near the garden.

Chickens also love tomatoes, whether green or red. You have to keep the chickens away from the plants, or they will devour it.

Urban Permaculture Swale Study

If anybody thinks of permaculture at all, which most probably don’t, they would tend to think of a rural setting or owning acreage. But it doesn’t have to be. Permaculture is ultimately a design system, and as such, can be applied, literally anywhere.

Here’s a short video showing a swale I installed in an urban setting. This swale was installed to divert rain water runoff coming down the hill from flooding my mother-in-law’s house. In permaculture, “The Problem Is The Solution”

A couple of simple homesteading projects you can do.

I have a couple of very simple homesteading projects I wanted to share with you. If you’re interested in getting started working on some projects on your piece of land, but have no idea where to get started with making any kind of preparations, these are two simple things you do:

  • Ferment naturally-occurring plants. Learning about and then utilizing plants that are naturalized to your area (therefore they grow wild and are readily available) is a great way to get started on your property. For instance, you can make a pretty decent cup of tea with dandelion roots.
    • In this case, I wanted to see if I could utilize the wild onions that sprout every spring in my yard. I tend to let my lawn revert to it’s natural, native state, and only cut the lawn when the city is on the verge of coming down on me. I pretty much let Mother Nature dictate what’s going to grow where. In this specific case, we have wild onions that grow in the yard. The bulbs grow to about the size of a ping-pong ball, but the bulbs are so strong, as to be inedible. They literally made me puke the first time I tried one. But I wondered…….”Could you ferment them to make them edible?” Fermentation changes the nature and makeup of food. And certainly, there could be nothing more organic than wild onions growing in the backyard. The lactobacillus bacteria will be plentiful on these. There are lots and lots of good guides on lacto-fermentation on the web. This is not intended to be a comprehensive guide. The only point of this article is to get you to look at foods that may be growing in your backyard right now, in a different light. The fermentation process is super-easy. .All you need is saltwater, and……..that’s it. Dig the onions up, clean them up, cut off the tops, and wash them. Put them in a mason jar and fill to the brim with salt water. They make all different kinds of airlocks and weights for fermentation, but I don’t have any of that stuff. I just filled a clean mason jar to the brim with salt water and put the lid on, and then burp it every so often.
    • It won’t take long before you start to see the biological activity begin. Maybe a few days to a week. It’s literally alive in there. You can see it. It bubbles and fizzes when you open the jar. I tried one of the onions after about 20-30 days. Now, look – It’s important to know: I’m NOT advocating serving fermented wild onions served as an appetizer  before a romantic night with your sweetie. They’re still very strong. But the taste is pleasing, and tangy. Natural fermentation may provide you with an alternative way to eat healthy, natural, organic food right out of your own backyard.
  • Another skill I’ve been working with in the last week has been cooking on natural firewood. In this case, because we live in Texas, I’ve got mesquite. I’m learning to cook on firewood. Why is this a homesteading skill?
    • Cooking on firewood is not as easy as cooking on charcoal – The firewood has to be dried out. Green wood is very difficult to burn into hot coals.  It’s hard to get lit and stay lit. The firewood will also have lots of very hot spots and some very cool spots – It burns unevenly. It can also be harder to light. You have to literally build a fire, starting with tinder, and then kindling, and then the fire. It’s not as easy as just squirting some lighter fluid on the pile of coals. And it takes a lot longer then you might think. If you’ve got a hungry tribe at 6:00 PM, you don’t want to start the fire at 5:00 PM. You want to build the fire much earlier in the day, so that there’s ample time to form coals. Don’t attempt to cook over the wood when it’s still “wood” and aflame – Better to wait until the coals are fully ashy.
    • I only put the picture of the beer in there, because I was being cheeky with a friend.

 

Look, I get that this is not the same as getting hydro-electric power to your homestead. These are two very simple projects that you can implement almost immediately on your own property, and begin to take control over your own life and your own land.

 

A Story About Chickens

I’ve had backyard chickens for probably 15+ years now. In the event that chickens ever come up in casual conversation, and sometimes they do, people who want to know more about chickens will invariably ask, “How many chickens do you have?”

Which is a difficult question to answer. “How many chickens do you have, right now?” is a better way to ask the question. The number of chickens is always in flux. Chickens come, and chickens go. Over the years, my adopted management technique is something slightly akin to “Survival of the Fittest. Only the strong survive.”

I built them a coop, and it keeps them warm and dry and a place to lay their eggs, if they choose to lay in there. Oftentimes, they will lay in the barn, or under the rosemary bush, or under the flat-bottom boat, or anywhere else they have a mind to. And they have a 1/2 acre of minimally manicured and 100% organic yard to free range in. So, I don’t feed them grain that often. I want my chickens to always be just a little bit hungry. Put them to work out on the 1/2 acre, and they’ll spend all day, scratching out bugs and pests. And I make sure they have clean water. Beyond that, good luck girls. My birds don’t get medicine, dirt tubs, oyster shells or any of this other stuff you may read about. They have the yard. Go to work, ladies.

As a result, sometimes we lose a chicken. Most notably, to predators. Even though we live in an urban environment, we have all the same predators as those of you in rural areas do, albeit in lesser concentrations than you. Sometimes, at dawn or dusk, we’ll see Coyote come skulking about. Mr. Hawk is easy to see in the treetops, especially in the winter, when the trees have lost their leaves. And if Mr. Hawk has found the flock, you damned sure better to be willing to keep the girls locked inside the coop and be willing to stand over them, until Mr. Hawk decides to go look for easier pickings. I don’t bear any of the predators any ill will, though. They all have their role to fulfill in nature’s web. They need to eat, too. Ultimately, I try and provide some protection for The Girls, in the form of their coop and lots of natural undergrowth, but there’s is, in fact a natural attrition rate to the flock.

There’s also an unexpected growth rate that happens, too. We have friends that buy baby chicks at Easter and then, not know what to do with them after they quit being cute. So we collect chickens in much the same way that a shelter collects cats and dogs. There’s always a period of adjustment when you bring new birds into the flock. Thus, the phrase, “Pecking order.” It’s a real thing. If added in small groups, the chickens will divide up into teams, based on their original order. For instance, it might be “The three” and then “The two.” But, eventually, they all coalesce into one small flock.

It’s a little bit like a riff on that old story of Theseus’ ship. If you replace the entire ship one piece at a time, is it still the same ship? In the case of chickens: If you replace the flock onesies-twosies over time, is it still the same flock?

The most accurate answer to the question of “How many?” is probably somewhere between 12-13 on the high end, and maybe 2-3 on the low end. The reason I bring all this to your attention is to tell you a story about one remarkable chicken and a tale of survival.

We were down to 4 chickens at the time. I think we had 2 Americanas from the original flock of 12, and a couple of add-ons. One evening, several weeks ago, when I went to close the coop door, I noticed there were only 3 heads in the roost. Huh. That’s odd. Chickens are both unpredictable and predictable. It’s impossible to know where they’re going to lay their eggs. But once they get homed into their coop, they’ll return there, every single evening, at dusk. In my mind’s eye, I’m designing an automated system, running from Arduino, for this exact reason. The chickens always come home to roost. Always. I did a cursory look around for #4, but I knew if she wasn’t right there with the others, the prognosis wasn’t good. I got a flashlight, and scanned around the yard, but she wasn’t there. I knew she wouldn’t be. I shut the coop up, and realized that this was just another bird we’ve lost over the years.

The next morning, I got up to look for the carcass, so I could bury it in the garden somewhere. Depending on the kill pattern, you can sort of deduce who got your chickens. Coyote will take the whole bird, leaving only a plume of feathers, while Mr. Hawk will only bite their heads off and leave the bodies behind. But on this morning, there was no feathers, no headless carcass, nothing. Which was weird – Even if it was Coyote, you can at least see the spot where the kill happened – Usually, right outside the periphery of the undergrowth of the trees and brambles.

“Well, this is something new. But, nevertheless, the chicken is gone. So that’s that.”

And when Mother Nature takes a chicken from you, you never get it back. Never, never, not ever. Never. And that’s final. After spending some years watching their behavior, I’ve decided it’s a big, cosmic joke: From Apex Predator to Lowest Prey in only a few million years. You can easily deduce that Spielberg used chickens as the models for his ravenous Velociraptors in the movie Jurassic Park. They’re just too similar. And now, through some Grand Shift, they’ve been reduced to among the most vulnerable in the animal kingdom. So when you lose one, it’s not a joyous occasion, but let’s be honest: It happens.

Except in this one particular case. The chicken actually came back to us. About 6 weeks later, we had a neighbor reach out to us. This neighbor raises chickens, also. Somehow, our chicken had been surviving out on the streets for a month and half, scraping by on scraps, and somehow getting connected to the other chicken family.

When we first got her back, she looked like Hell. Her feathers were all ripped out and torn off, and her vent was all hanging outside of her body. Boy, did she look rough. I didn’t expect her to make it. The flock wouldn’t accept her right away – She had to find another place to roost at night. The Girls wouldn’t let her inside the coop to sleep. But I kept feeding her. And when I say feeding her, I mean, dumping some scratch in the trough. I don’t mean any kind of extraordinary feeding measures. But she was hungry, and kept coming back. The first few nights, she would vanish – But come back during the day for food. And she would stick around our yard, as opposed to going back over to the other place. They have many more chickens than we do, and their yard is 100% dirt and mud, whereas our yard is mostly overgrown. Perhaps it’s because we have better grazing here?

Regardless, it looks like she’s back from the dead, and here to stay. The others still haven’t fully accepted her yet. Right now, it’s “The Three” and “The One” but they at least let her sleep inside with them now.

 

Developing a deer management plan

There are few successful ventures that did not start with a little forethought and planning. A “game plan” is needed for just about everything we do from cradle to grave to avert the “slings and arrows” of life. Things like family planning, financial planning, a health plan, and even a burial plan come to mind. And if you are a landowner, you know that good planning may be the difference between making it or breaking it financially. But, “if you don’t write down the rules of your game, you’ll always be playing a different game”. Developing a plan that addresses the proper management of wildlife populations and habitats on your land is no different. Whether you are making a living at it, or just trying to do the right thing for the land and wildlife, developing a plan of action is fundamental to success. But not everyone has all the “tools” in their tool chest to automatically know how to manage wildlife and wildlife habitat. There is more to it than most people think, and there are few shortcuts in this process. Aldo Leopold said, “The urge to comprehend must precede the urge to reform.” Consulting with a professional wildlife biologist and other resource management specialists will add an important perspective and dimension to proper planning of the wildlife and habitat resources on your land. Landowners should draw on the expertise of one or several resource professionals to help develop a wildlife management plan, one that is based on good science and sound population and habitat management principals. In Texas, on-site assistance is available from state and federal agencies such as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Agricultural Extension Service, and Natural Resources Conservation Service. These agencies do not charge a fee for their services, and complying with their recommendations is generally voluntary (a specific level of compliance may be required for participation in programs such as financial cost-share or the issuance of special permits). There are also non-governmental groups and private consultants available to provide wildlife management assistance to landowners. These others may charge fees for the services, but in return, they may be able to devote more time and provide more personalized service. In short, there are a number of wildlife management assistance options available to landowners. It doesn’t hurt to go to several sources for help. You will likely find that the advice and recommendations offered by one will be very similar to that offered by another (singing the same verse of the same hymn), providing validation. But there also may be some variations (same hymn, but singing a different verse), presenting you with the opportunity (or dilemma) to pick and choose what you think works best for your particular situation. Even if the white-tailed deer is your primary, or one and only, species of interest, be wary of anyone, regardless of who is consulted, who does not include a healthy dose of ecosystem management philosophy that goes beyond single species (i.e. deer) management. A good land stewardship philosophy should address the whole landscape as well as all the wildlife species that are found there, and the habitats they occupy.

WHY HAVE A WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT PLAN?

To be successful, a wildlife management plan must be ecologically sound, economically practical and realistically attainable. Practically every landowner has different ideas about what he or she wants to do with a piece of property, and different expectations for the land to meet their goals and objectives. And their financial resources range from shoestring budgets to bottomless pits. In reality, it is the land that will determine whether or not their goals and objectives are attainable. The Texas landscape is a lesson in biological diversity with 10 major ecological regions and many sub-regions and ecotones that are the end product of the geologic past, rainfall and temperature patterns, and land use history, both past and present. Plant communities in many areas have been altered over time by the cumulative influences of livestock grazing, fire or the lack thereof, and other land uses. Wildlife populations of the present are a reflection of the existing configuration of plant life on the landscape. Developing a wildlife management plan is primarily a matter of working with what you have and then trying to elicit responses from the land through implementation of proven sound land enhancement and management practices. The art and science of this process constitutes management, and it is an inexact science at best. “Trial and error” is often recommended to see what works and what doesn’t. Flexibility is an important component of any wildlife management plan because responses to habitat enhancement practices from well-intentioned management schemes and strategies often “go astray”. The concept of measuring twice and cutting once comes into play. A wildlife management plan will provide a sense of direction for achieving long-term goals and objectives. It should outline a plan of action to follow so that wildlife, both game and nongame species, and their habitats are not adversely affected. Actions taken to enhance habitat or wildlife populations will result in reactions, many of which may be undetectable to the eye but significant to the welfare of something else. In addition to providing a sense of direction to a landowner, a written wildlife management plan is required for participation in many state and federal land management cost-share incentive programs, and for the wildlife management use option of the open space tax valuation. Also, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department requires a written plan as a prerequisite before landowners can participate in special hunting regulations, seasons, and bag limits – programs such as Managed Lands Deer Permits, Antlerless Deer and Spike Deer Control Permits, Trap, Transport and Transplant Permits, and Deer Management Permits.

ELEMENTS OF A WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT PLAN

The following subjects are the basic components of a wildlife management plan and some of the topics that should be addressed and documented. The list of topics is not necessarily all inclusive – every management plan is different, and the list may not fit every situation. Hopefully it is sufficient enough to understand the scope and concept of a wildlife management plan. A plan should include most of the following headings and subheadings, but should be customized for each particular situation.

Background Information –

• Ownership – Name, address, and phone number(s) of the landowner, as well as others (e.g. manager) who are responsible for assisting with making management decisions and implementing management practices.

• Location of the Property – County; distance and direction from the nearest city or town; roads used to access the property.

Statement of Goals and Objectives – This is basically a statement of where you want to go with your wildlife and habitat resources, providing direction for the specific things that will be needed to get there. Remember, the goals and objectives should reflect ecological soundness, economic feasibility, and realistic attainability. If they don’t, you’ll likely be disappointed with the results. The statement can be one sentence, or several one-line sentences. They may be general, but the more specific they are, the better they are for determining what needs to be done to achieve them. Some examples are:

• To properly manage habitat for native wildlife species for personal enjoyment and recreational use.

• To conduct habitat enhancement practices beneficial to native and migratory wildlife species.

• To produce trophy white-tailed deer and harvest mature bucks with 18 inch inside spreads and field dressed weights of 150 lbs. at 4 ½ years of age.

• To enhance habitat for maximum bobwhite quail production.

• To manage wildlife habitat for increased plant diversity and species composition.

Size of the Property and Acreage of General Habitat Types – The general habitat types found on the property should be categorized and expressed in number of acres. This should include acreage in croplands or cultivation, improved pastures, native grasslands, native brush or woodlands, wetlands or riparian areas, number and acres of ponds or lakes, etc. This will give you an idea of what you have to work with and help you determine if you are in the general ballpark of your goals and objectives. If you are interested in managing for white-tailed deer, it helps if you have white-tailed deer habitat. If your interest is in managing habitat for a diversity of songbirds, you would need a variety of habitat types.

Past History of Land Use and Wildlife – Knowledge of past land use practices is very important, and may help explain why the land looks like it does today. Knowing the history of hunting and wildlife harvest and the demographics of wildlife populations often explains present population levels of game animal species and the quality of those populations. Go as far back in time as possible. In some situations, such as a new ownership, the known history of management under the previous ownership may be minimal – in other situations it may be possible to go back several years, or generations. This section should include information such as:

• Habitat management practices conducted –

• Where, when, and how much brush control has been implemented, and by what method (burning, mechanical, chemical, etc.).

• Livestock grazing history (grazing intensity, classes of livestock, number of pastures, type of grazing system used – rotational, continuous, or none, etc.)

• Range reseeding (species used, where and when), farming conducted in the past, etc.

• Any other land use practices that may have had a direct impact on the land and plant life.

• History of wildlife populations and harvest of game animals. This is an area in the plan where you can establish a baseline to work from to measure the success of your management efforts.

• Historic population densities, sex ratios, and species composition of wildlife determined from censuses.

• Numbers of game animals harvested annually.

• Field-dressed weights, antler measurements, and ages of harvested animals.

• Hunting history (leased or non-leased, shortterm or season-long, numbers of hunters, etc.)

• Any stocking of wildlife species, including exotics, that may have occurred.

Current Situation – Provide information on:

• Vegetation management practices currently being conducted.

• Current livestock grazing practices (stocking rate, class of livestock, grazing system used, number and sizes of pastures, improved pastures used for grazing, etc.).

• How the property is currently hunted.

• Wildlife species present, including predators, exotic species, nongame and feral species.

• Amount of supplemental feeding and food plots currently being provided for wildlife.

• Amount and distribution of livestock and wildlife water sources (tanks, streams, wells).

• Habitat types and hunting practices on adjacent lands. Unless a property is high-fenced, species with large home ranges, such as deer, will liberally move back and forth across property boundaries. Documenting the habitat types, habitat management, and hunting practices on neighboring lands will help to identify liabilities, and assets, that will to some extent guide the management of your property. (Although you can’t dictate or control how adjacent lands are managed, you can possibly influence management decisions by setting positive examples.)

Description of Habitat – Aerial photographs and topographic maps are very beneficial in identifying and assessing habitats and other features of the property. A combination of a desk review of photos and maps and an on-site field review should be used to gather information.

• Include information on elevations and topography, geologic features on the landscape, and the names of creeks, rivers or watershed drainages

• Since plants are a direct reflection of soil types, this section should include information on the different soil types or associations present on the property. Soils maps are readily available in soil surveys that have been published for most Texas counties by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The “range site” designation associated with each soil type provides a description of the native plant community that can potentially grow on the site, which can be compared to the plant community that actually currently occurs. Knowing soil characteristics such as texture, water holding capacity, erosion hazard, and rooting depth are important for planning the locations of management practices such as food plots, brush control, and range reseeding.

• A professional wildlife biologist or resource specialist can be of assistance by identifying in detail the plant species composition present on the property. This description should be a comprehensive inventory of the trees and shrubs, forbs, and grass species present on the landscape. The species that are valuable as food and/or cover for wildlife should be identified. The plant list should include both native and introduced plants and identify any problem areas where invader species occur. The present degree of plant use by livestock and wildlife should be evaluated, and the overall condition of the plant community should be rated (i.e. fair, good, excellent). The adequacy of the density and distribution of wildlife cover should be evaluated.

Habitat Management Recommendations – This section is the “meat” of the plan. It identifies the habitat management practices specific to your property that address your goals and objectives, and are beneficial to the entire spectrum of wildlife and wildlife habitats that occur. Recommendations should be practices that affect wildlife food, cover, and water, and the proper arrangement of these habitat components. Refer to these recommendations often and update them as you progress with your management efforts. They may include but are not limited to the following:

• Livestock grazing recommendations (stocking rate, class of livestock, deferred-rotation grazing system, additional cross-fencing).

• Vegetation management recommendations (prescribed burning, mechanical brush control, proper use of herbicides, farming practices, rangeland reseeding, shallow disking to encourage forb growth, etc.).

• Watering facilities (development of additional livestock/wildlife water sources, or modification of existing facilities to better accommodate wildlife).

Featured Species – Your wildlife management plan should contain detailed information on the biology, life history and habitat requirements for the specific wildlife species (e.g. white-tailed deer, etc.) that are the intended primary beneficiaries of your management projects. Many species of wildlife have specific habitat requirements that are biologically driven. Knowledge of things like home range, territoriality, food habits, reproduction, population dynamics, longevity, seasonal movements, migration, and spatial requirements are fundamental to the management of each species. Management recommendations should then be provided specifically for the featured species, in addition to and in conjunction with the overall management recommendations provided earlier in the plan. Specific recommendations could include:

• Supplemental Feeding / Food Plots – Feeding and food plots should not be viewed as a substitute for other proper land and wildlife management measures. Rather, as the term implies, these practices should be used to supplement the diet of the featured species and other wildlife during periods of stress or food shortages. The plan should identify the kind of feed to use, the type and number of feeders needed, and a schedule for distribution. Food plots almost require a plan of their own and can turn into downright farming if you want to do it right.

• Census Method(s) Used to Determine Population Density and Composition – This section should contain your plan for monitoring the populations of the featured species. List the census techniques to be used, when and where surveys are to be conducted, and method for data analysis. Here again, a professional wildlife biologist or resource specialist can assist you in determining how to gather and interpret this information.

• Recommendations for Harvest – For game species such as deer, turkey, and quail, hunting is an important part of the overall management program. Annual harvest recommendations, determined from annual census data, are especially necessary for deer to determine the appropriate harvest needed to maintain the desired density, sex ratio, and age structure of the deer population. A management plan featuring deer should address general deer harvest strategies to meet specific goals and objectives. However, the plan should stop short of making specific deer harvest recommendations – specific harvest rates should be developed annually and be based on current census data. The landowner should also put some forethought into the hunting strategy (numbers of hunters, etc.) that will be needed to achieve the desired harvest.

• Records Management – Good record keeping should be an important part of your wildlife and habitat management plan that will help you evaluate your efforts, environmentally as well as financially. Try to develop systematic measures to quantify the density and distribution of wildlife populations, habitat, plants, and land improvements. In addition, keep records on all wildlife surveys, population counts or casual observations throughout the year and develop trend information where possible on species abundance, distribution, and occurrence. Record data from game species harvested – numbers by sex, weights, antler measurements, and ages. Record the costs associated with any of the practices or conservation measures you use to enhance, maintain, or improve the land for reference or verification. Keeping good records is also recommended for documenting the land and wildlife management activities conducted if participating in the wildlife management use option of the open space tax valuation.

Other Species/Comments – This section can be devoted to “add-on” recommendations for the management of populations and habitats of other species on your property:

• Nongame species management (providing supplemental shelter such as birdhouses and brush piles, providing supplemental foods such as feeders, etc.).

• Control of predators and exotic and feral species of wildlife.

Species of Concern – In closing, your management plan should document if species of concern (that’s the politically correct way of saying rare, threatened, or endangered species) occur on your property, or if there is suitable habitat indicating that a species of concern could potentially occur. The presence, or potential presence, of a federally-listed threatened or endangered species should not necessarily be considered a liability – good land stewardship, even if management is directed toward a game species or non-listed species, can be very compatible with maintaining habitat for a listed species, and vice versa. However, for every action there is a reaction that could either positively or negatively effect something in addition to the intended target. Professional resource specialists are legally obligated to not recommend any management practices that would knowingly harm a federally-listed species, or degrade its habitat. Likewise, landowners are obligated to not implement practices that could cause harm. Documenting the presence or potential presence of species of concern helps guide which management practices can be implemented, and those that should not be, to avoid causing adverse impacts.

PRIVATE LANDOWNERS ARE THE KEY Since 97% of the land in the State of Texas is privately owned, the vast majority of the state’s wildlife populations and wildlife habitats occur on private lands. Texas landowners are the key to maintaining and improving wildlife populations and habitats through the implementation of good, well informed, land stewardship practices.

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