Causing a Disturbance
By Daniel Greenfield, AGFC Private Lands Biologist, East Central Regional Office
Arkansas – -(Ammoland.com)- Wildlife habitat created by utilizing the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), administered through the County Farm Service Agency, provides critical habitat to various wildlife species including deer, turkey, rabbit, quail, resident songbirds, migrating birds, and waterfowl.
CRP provides quality food and cover across the landscape that would otherwise be lacking. Land enrolled in the CRP program is improved through mid-contract management activities-basically causing a disturbance to the cover. Mid-contract management activities are required under contract guidelines and must be included in the CRP habitat plan under most conservation practices.
Landowners with contracts, without mid-contract management activities included in the conservation plan, can request this cost-shared practice through an amendment to the plan through their county Farm Service Agency office. The timing of the disturbances are also important and will be outlined in the plan.
Approved disturbance practices to contracts may include shallow disking, prescribed burning, spraying herbicides and inter-seeding legumes, depending on the specific CRP practice.
Why are these practices important? The previous mentioned practices cause a positive disturbance that would otherwise be absent. Quality habitat can be maintained throughout the life of the CRP contract when these practices are utilized properly. The disturbances are necessary to setback succession and control undesirable woody plant species and promote diversity in plant communities. Without disturbance, invasive species such as Bermuda grass, fescue and sweetgum can spread and take over an area. Periodic soil disturbance is necessary to promote short lived annual plant species that provide quality habitat. Partridge Pea, a common annual encouraged through disturbance, can produce an abundance of seeds eaten by songbirds quail, turkey and a number of mammals.
Shallow Disking in CRP grass stands three-years-old or older can improve plant diversity and increase open ground beneficial to numerous game species such as quail, turkey, deer and other small animals. Disking two to four inches deep and in strips no more than 75 feet wide is ideal. Only one third to half of the total field should be disked in a given year. It is important to leave an area twice the size of the area disked for cover. Fall disking can promote hard seeded plant species such as partridge pea and ragweed. Spring disking stimulates annual grasses. A properly disked field should consist of roughly 50 percent bare ground and 50 percent residual cover. This practice will promote a balanced stand of annual and perennial plant species.
Prescribed burning is a beneficial tool that can maximize habitat to its full potential in several ways. Excess litter that impedes the movements of small animals such as turkey poults and quail chicks can be removed by prescribed fire. Fire can also allow the germination of seed bearing plants, thus creating more plant diversity and food production. Encroachment of undesirable woody species such as sweetgum can also be controlled with the proper use of fire. Burns must be completed according to specifications of Natural Resources Conservation Service as outlined in a burn plan.
Spraying herbicides can also be used to remove unwanted vegetation such Bermuda grass, fescue and sweetgum. The herbicide applications will also setback plant succession to improve habitat diversity. The type of unwanted plant species you are treating will determine the type, rate and timing of herbicide application. It may be necessary to spray a large portion of the field or simply spot spray depending on the condition of the field.
Inter-seeding legumes such as red and white clover or forbs such as Partridge Pea or Black – Eyed Susan will increase structural diversity in the cover and add a valuable food source for various wildlife species.
Mowing may not be used as an alternative for any of these practices unless used in conjunction with one of the approved disturbance activities. Recreational mowing is not allowed according to FSA requirements.
CRP conservation practices available to landowners range from establishing bottomland hardwoods, wetlands, shallow water habitat, native warm season grass, pollinator habitat and other wildlife habitat. Mid-contract management activities are available depending on the CRP practice. Landowners receive a 50 percent cost-share to off-set any cost for the management activity.
For more information on improving your CRP acres for wildlife and/or establishing and maintaining land for wildlife habitat, and programs to help, contact an AGFC Private Lands Biologist at: Beaver Lake, 866-253-2506; Harrison, 870-741-8600 ext. 114; Hope, 877-777-5580; Calico Rock, 877-297-4331; Little Rock, 877-470-3650; Brinkley, 877-734-4581; Jonesboro, 877-972-5438 and Monticello, 877-367-3559.
To locate the private lands biologist covering your county, go to our webpage at: www.agfc.com/habitat and click on the Private Lands map.