Diamonds in the Rough

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

be separated by undisturbed vegetation twice as wide as the disked strips to prevent erosion. The disked areas will provide brood-rearing and roosting cover for species, such as bobwhite quail. The undisked areas will provide nesting cover.

The best time to disk is between October 1 and March 30. In most instances it will be necessary to burn or mow the areas before disking so the disk blades will cut effectively. Strip disking can be used in conjunction with, or as an alternative to, prescribed burning to break up and diversify dense stands of CRP grasses. Rotate the disked strips around the field from year to year. This will create a situation in which multiple vegetation types are present within each field, maximizing wildlife benefits. For quail, disked strips should be within 50 feet of dense shrub cover.

Shrub Plantings

In large CRP fields, or in fields with little shrubby vegetation around or within them, small shrub plantings can benefit wildlife. They're essential if you're managing for bobwhite quail. Biologists often refer to areas of dense shrubby cover as "covey headquarters" because they are the foundation of a covey's home range. These areas serve as escape cover from predators and protection from harsh winter weather and mid-day summer heat.

Covey headquarters should be 3-10 feet tall when mature, with little vegetation at ground level to restrict movement. The shrubby cover should be thick enough to make it difficult for a person to walk through it. Plum, blackberry, sumac, rough-leafed dogwood and coral berry are good "cover headquarter" plants.

For CRP fields bordering woodlands or having woody draws running through them, "edge feathering" can be used to create covey headquarters in a shorter time than with shrub plantings. Edge feathering provides a gradual transition zone from one habitat type to another using a mixture of plants from each of the adjoining habitats.

Food Plots

Food plots can serve many purposes, such as providing brood-rearing cover and emergency winter food. In some instances, they can substitute for woody cover.

Food plots ranging from one-quarter acre to one-half acre should be established every 40 acres and located within 50 feet of woody cover. Long, linear food plots planted with annual grains are better for small game wildlife. Larger, blocked food plots consisting of green-browse forages, like clover, are better for deer.

Combine Practices

Individually, each of the above mentioned practices can enhance CRP grasslands for wildlife. Combined, they can be used to create a wildlife oasis.

For example, strip disking after a prescribed burn will create and maintain a diverse plant community and provide feeding and nesting cover for wildlife. Establishing food plots next to shrubby cover will create quality covey headquarters for quail.

To learn more about managing CRP for wildlife, contact your county USDA office or visit your nearest Conservation Department office. A private land conservationist, wildlife management biologist or NRCS technician can help you plan management options best suited for your CRP property.

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