By: Matt Dye / Land & Legacy
Time to break a myth right out of the gate, you don’t have to own thousands of acres devoted to prime habitat to make a solid impact on the neighborhood. There are several ways in which land owners can work together that will make their desired impact on the natural resources a reality.
One of these ways is to start or join a wildlife cooperative! These cooperatives are increasing in popularity across the country, especially in areas where land parcel sizes tend to be smaller than average. There are several distinct advantages to working with your neighbors, the biggest being the overall positive footprint left on the landscape that benefit various forms of flora and fauna. Throughout this article we discuss several ways to achieve large scale habitat impacts anywhere across the country.
There are several common limiting factors when it comes to actually getting the habitat work done, those limiting factors include, time, money and time… We talk with landowners from across the country and time is always the factor that cause projects to get delayed. Mother Nature and the spring green up doesn’t wait for anyone, no matter how busy their schedule. Despite knowing in advance, the best times to utilize prescribed fire, complete TSI, or eradicate invasive species, life just simply gets in the way. In a co-op, there is a distinct advantage to working with contractors! When a contractor who maybe either clearing land, completing prescribed fires, or logging a property always looks to get the most out of each time the crew mobilizes. When several neighboring landowners are in communication, they can coordinate the similar habitat projects and complete both projects at the same time. Any contractor should be appreciative of this and save each landowner some money by providing several jobs for just one mobilization.
For example, it takes many loggers several thousand dollars just to move several loads of equipment down the road. When a landowner has 40 acres and only 20 of which are being logged, the math doesn’t typically work to take that job knowing the cost to move equipment. On the other hand, if several neighbors of varying size tracts of land are working together, they can bring in one logger to complete each property, one right after another. This creates consistency for the logger and cuts operational costs. In addition, consider the quality habitat produced in this scenario. Several portions of each neighboring properties would be offering quality young forest regeneration for the next several years. Now that these young forests are regenerating at roughly the same rate, they can be burned at the same rate as well. So, the next contractor to be used will have more acres to burn, the same scenario and cost savings can be said the for burn contractor as well. Usually, you will see a cost saving on the mobilization and as the number of acres increases. Just by being in a coop and working with like-minded neighbors, you can eliminate the lack of time slowing you down from accomplishing your landownership goals.
It is a common discussion that we have with landowners, but have you ever pondered which is better, being a part of a large co-op or being a solo landowner in a given area doing the best practices? The diamond in the rough approach is more common, but there are many disadvantages in the long-term implications of this approach. One of the most limiting factors when we evaluate properties that are looking to grow larger whitetails, is the age structure. This is the most important factor in determining antler production. Nutrition and genetics follow-up the rate of influence respectively. Age-structure is easy to change, however, to see the large-scale impacts across an entire herd, multiple landowners need to work together - plain and simple.
One property owner passing young age class deer will observe results - but it will be further down the road and not to the extent you can with like-minded landowners working together on more acres. When two or more landowners are cooperating the rate of influence is greater and results can be seen quicker in most instances.
After traveling across many regions of the whitetails range, I’m confident that large whitetails can be taken in every state, every region, and every county. However, if the deer herd in your neighborhood is lacking older age class bucks, you will not see nor have the opportunity to harvest the caliber of deer you wish on a regular basis. Depending on the reproductive success, habitat, hunter density, and property size you may be waiting many years to grow and harvest the deer you wish to. The diamond in the rough property has a much longer period to wait or “mature” if you will. In comparison, a property owner in a co-op with quality neighbors all exercising the same practices will impact the overall deer herd at a much faster rate. Success could be just a few short seasons away before older age class whitetails are represented more naturally in the age-structure. The co-op land management approach will allow for the desired large-scale impacts to become a reality. In this approach, individuals can be a part of county wide or regional impacts!
One of the most important ways to make a large-scale impact to the habitat and wildlife is to limit the severity of the impact of negative influences on a population. For instance, we all know what happens when heavy rains occur frequently during the spring/summer months. Ground nesting birds such as bobwhite quail and wild turkeys can experience sharp declines in the success of rearing young for that season. Often times re-nesting may occur, but these uncontrollable negative impacts to the environment can directly and negatively impact wildlife populations. Let’s for a second re-visit the scenario of a landowner in a co-op versus being a diamond in the rough. By being surrounded by neighbors that also have quality habitat and or existing populations of quail and turkeys, the overall impact of the uncontrollable rains will be less devastating versus a single property with ideal habitat. Imagine if you place several years of this type of rain in a row, now you are looking at an even bigger impact to the greater population. Any recreational landowner looking to promote wildlife species on a property does not wish for these types of events to occur. However, these naturally occurring events are out of the hands of the landowner. At times, we are simply at the mercy of Mother Nature and what she throws at you. What we can influence on a greater scale is the overall felt impact of such events by providing quality habitat in large quantities in close proximity to one another.
Whether you are looking to produce hunt-able populations of declining species such as bobwhite quail or the ruffed grouse, or even managing for trophy whitetails, the larger the scale of impact on the habitat the quicker and greater influence one will have. To drive home a point, this does not mean owning half a county or four sections is necessary, it simply means working with those individuals in the neighborhood with common goals will provide the large impact to the land and wildlife you desire to make. Thousands of co-ops are in place right now across the country impacting countless acres and a whole host of rare or declining species of game and non-game species and diverse plant communities. Join or start a wildlife co-op in your area to see neighbors join hands in the promotion of sound habitat across the landscape! Join, get involved, or document your current co-op with the National Wildlife Cooperative today!
About the Author: Matt Dye of Land & Legacy, LLC
Matt and Adam are hosts of the Land & Legacy Podcast and private wildlife
management consultants from Missouri.