Managing Your Land for Wildlife

Seth Gibson, Water Resources Coordinator

Aldo Leopold is credited with saying, “There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot,” this article is intended for the latter.

At our very core, people and animals aren’t that different. We want to be comfortable, well fed, and have a place to feel safe. The difference is that unlike humans, animals pay no attention to property lines allowing them to seek out where they feel most comfortable. We tend to oversimplify this in most cases by only putting out food, when in reality creating ideal habitat goes far beyond a simple forage base.

Picture this, it’s the peak of March Madness and you’ve been invited to two different watch parties. The first, is at your friend’s place with a decked-out basement complete with multiple T.V.s and plenty of seating.  The second invite is to your other friend’s place where the viewing area is not as impressive, but they live on a lake. Obviously the first invite is more attractive during the basketball tournament, but the opposite would be true if the invites were extended on a hot summer day. Similarly, wildlife habitat preferences change with the seasons. For example, during nesting season, pheasants prefer cool season grasses to provide their chicks with cover but during the winter they prefer switchgrass stands because they are sturdy enough to withstand the weight of snow cover. Providing all habitat requirements for the species you are trying to attract is the best way to encourage more to use of your land.

Seasonal preferences extend far beyond habitat type, too. They can apply to things like food, space, and how close other members of the same species are. We see an example of seasonal flock preferences in waterfowl. During fall, they group together to form big flocks in order to make migration easier.  In the spring, the same birds will split off into mating pairs so that they can raise their young with less competition for resources. Seasonal food preferences tend to be based on availability, making it important to have multiple food sources that come available at different times of the year to hold wildlife longer. We can observe this in our deer population through the way that they will ignore turnip greens during the fall but eat them during the winter when they are some of the last green vegetation to persist. All things to consider when trying to enhance your wildlife habitat.

The point is that while some habitat components may have more of an impact on whether or not certain species utilize your land, a holistic approach to habitat management is the best way to get your target species to hang around more often. Take your time, do the research, and do your best to provide the wildlife species that you’re interested in with all the things that it needs to be successful and flourish throughout the year.

Resources for habitat enhancements:

https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-350-79136_79608—,00.html

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/mi/programs/

https://www.michigandnr.com/publications/pdfs/huntingwildlifehabitat/landowners_guide/Introduction/Intro_to_Wildlife_and_Hab.htm