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Outdoors

Hunting season just around the corner

| Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011

With hunting season right around the corner, spending time in the woods becomes a regular habit. While there, spend some time observing the habitat paying particular attention to woody shrubs and young trees.

Are they heavily browsed or present at all• You'll also want to look at more mature trees; is there a distinct browse line or is the branch level varying in height and thickness.

Browse, the tender, newly developed area of a plant, makes up the majority of a deer's diet through the winter and an over population of deer can devoid an area of available food and limit quality habitat for woodland song birds, game birds like grouse and woodcock and are counterproductive to healthy populations of turkey and small game.

To help correct and improve habitat on private land, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry offer programs to develop wildlife plans to promote healthy habitat. These plans can focus on a certain species, like grouse or woodcock or can cover all woodland animals.

A biologist or forester will walk the property assessing the current resources and gathering feedback from the landowner or manager on improvement strategies. The plan will then list key species to protect, their habitat requirements and how the treatment should be completed, what practices are needed and when these practices should be implemented to promote and ultimately achieve the habitat requirement. Grapevine removal, slashing mature trees to encourage regrowth and promote winter food and cover are common practices. Mast tree release is often used to remove less desirable, unproductive trees to allow for better growth and production of high grade trees and control of invasive species like bittersweet and multiflora rose also improve habitat.

Our office can help landowners implement these plans by offering financial incentives to complete all or parts of the overall plan; there are also companies in the area that can complete these tasks which can be an asset on large acreages on heavily infested woodlots.

Once wildlife plans are implemented and the benefits are visualized; many are drawn to the Conservation Stewardship Program which rewards landowners for implementing good conservation practices. Funding is based on evaluation of how existing practices are managed and the willingness to improve or enhance those practices with a new enhancement. Popular examples of some practices are creating wildlife structures or den/snag trees.

Wildlife structures are log and brush huts that provide cover and habitat for small animals and rodents while den and snag trees provide habitat for tree climbing and wood land birds like hawks and owls. Others are controlling undesirable or invasive plants or limiting livestock access to woodlots. Typical incentives for the program range from $3-$10/acre for the five year contract period. If you would like to develop, implement wildlife plan or enroll in CSP you are encouraged to contact our office at 724-545-1022 X 3.

Andy Gaver is district conservationist with the USDA and the NRCS and is based in Butler.

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