No overview of any region of the state would be complete without taking a look at resource management on private land. The tracts under the stewardship of private landowners account for about 93 percent of the overall landscape.
Long-term, sustainable benefits from our natural world are not possible without the cooperation of landowners. They play a critical role in maintaining and enhancing the diversity and health of our environment.
Both landowners and landscape vary widely in the Central Region. Terrestrial to aquatic, glade to wetland, and forest to prairie habitats are managed by multi-generation farmers and ranchers to first-time owners of rural acreage.
The Missouri Department of Conservation has for decades provided technical assistance to state landowners. Guidance and resources for improving wildlife habitat, as well as fisheries and forestry management, have been provided by conservation agents, biologists, foresters and, more recently, by private land conservationists.
In addition to Department staff, partner agencies such as the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency have played a major role in supplying technical guidance and financial resources to landowners implementing conservation practices. Also, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s “Partners For Wildlife” program offers assistance to landowners managing for species and habitats of concern.
Sportsmen have long supported habitat management through dedicated tax dollars. However, in more recent times, groups such as Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Ruffed Grouse Society and Quail Unlimited have also funneled thousands of dollars from private fundraising efforts into the region to support landowner conservation efforts.
But no matter the amount of resources provided by others, without the commitment and efforts of individual landowners, landscape-scale conservation would not be possible. Here is a small sampling of landowners’ experiences with land stewardship in the Central Region.
Small game, big changes
In the east-central part of the region, a father and son landowner team have worked for decades on conservation concerns. Since the mid-70s, Arvil and Doug Kappelmann have managed their 300-acre Gasconade/Franklin County farm with soil conservation and wildlife habitat in mind.
Like many Missouri landowners, the Kappelmanns had become frustrated with decreasing small game populations. They thought that their food plot management activities should have sustained the quail and rabbit populations and could not understand why they didn’t see more wildlife.
It was only when Doug learned more about Missouri’s native plants and their communities that the Kappelmanns saw their farm differently. It wasn’t the food that was limiting wildlife—it was the habitat for protection, nesting and raising young.
With Doug’s passion for native plant restoration and Arvil’s lifelong love of quail, the father and son team took their wildlife management to a whole new level. In just five years they began to achieve the results they desired.
The Kappelmanns traded their tractor and brush hog for a chain saw and a couple of drip torches. Then they removed cedar from the idle corners of their farm. They allowed these areas to grow over and blended in annual food plots with the improved cover. As they gained knowledge and confidence, the duo expanded into larger areas and seeded native warm season grasses and wildflowers.
Natural community restoration and early successional habitat development on a limited farming budget was difficult. As their projects grew in scope, they sought financial assistance through cost-share assistance programs provided by the Missouri Department of Conservation and USDA’s Farm Bill.
Through their dedication and the financial assistance provided by state and federal programs, the Kappelmanns have completed 10 acres of cedar removal, 23 acres of native grass and forb establishment (with 15 more planned), 10 acres of glade and savanna restoration (with 10 more planned), and 6 acres of edgefeathering (with 6 more planned). They maintain 46 acres of early successional habitat and crop land. Doug will be completing a 6-acre timber stand improvement project this coming winter as well.
The Kappelmanns readily share their enthusiasm and expertise with anyone who is interested. They are quick to admit that food plots are not the answer to wildlife population problems and that you have to work hard to make habitat happen.
The Kappelmanns are stellar cooperators and conservationists. This is evident not only in the work that they do on their farm, but in their willingness to speak with anyone they meet about the benefits conservation provides for all Missourians.
Funding for diversity
Owning land in the rugged river hills of southern Montgomery County requires creative management. Dennis Horstman’s 175 acres includes forest, woodland, savanna, glade and open ground.
A good steward of the land as well as a hunter, Horstman wanted to improve both the quality of the timber in the forest and the wildlife habitat on his property. With assistance from cost-share programs from a variety of sources, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Horstman property underwent a metamorphosis.
While federal FLEP (Forest Land Enhancement Program) funds were used to complete 36 acres of timber stand improvement (TSI) and a 4-acre forest opening, additional accomplishments were achieved utilizing NGO funds.
The River Hills Forest Habitat Project, a cooperative partnership between the Ruffed Grouse Society, the Audubon Society of Missouri, the National Wild Turkey Federation and MDC, provides matching funds. The group helped Horstman complete a 37-acre timber stand improvement and three 1-acre forest openings. The forest openings helped regenerate low-quality timber and provided early successional habitat for deer, turkey and ruffed grouse, which have been found on the property for the last several years.
In the adjoining openland habitat, funds from Quail Unlimited and MDC’s Quail Habitat Incentive (QHI) partnership program were used to convert a 9-acre fescue field to native grasses and forbs. The glades and savanna on the property offered an opportunity to manage for native plant species.
As is often the case on Missouri glades, the area was overgrown with cedar and other woody plants. Three areas totaling 10 acres were cleared, and a prescribed burn was conducted using MDC’s conservation practice funds. The results were as immediate as the next growing season. Little bluestem, pale purple coneflower, butterfly weed and numerous other native forb species appeared. Turkey broods, deer and other wildlife are often seen in the burn area.
Completing this work has led to improved timber quality, increased plant diversity and increased wildlife populations. Deer and turkey responded quickly, as should quail. It takes ruffed grouse at least four–five years to respond after completion of the timber work.
Of crops and quail
In eastern Saline County near Hardeman, David Cramer and Mike Gremaud have taken a 58-acre tract and converted it from almost exclusively row crop production to a paradise for quail. As with many recreational landowners, they wanted to create high-quality habitat on their property and to enjoy quail hunting in the fall.
The land is gently rolling with a wooded riparian corridor near the western border of the property and a small stream with no riparian corridor on the east side. Like much of the county, the property had been terraced to shed excess water and control soil erosion.
Since most of the property has a crop history, Cramer and Gremaud looked into Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) practices that could improve the farm from a wildlife standpoint. Eligible crop ground can be enrolled into a variety of conservation practices (CPs), many with ample wildlife benefits, as well as the soil conservation benefits that are a main focus of the program.
CP21 provided for filter strips that were installed on the riparian corridors and seeded to warm season grass to provide nesting cover for quail. CP14 provided for planting grass on terraces to provide a mosaic of nesting and brood rearing cover throughout crop fields. These grass-backed terraces were seeded to timothy, orchard grass, wheat and lespedeza.
Prior to 2003, Cramer and Gremaud agreed that there was one covey on the farm and another covey that spent at least some time on the property. Last year, after only one year of habitat development, they had four large coveys.
Thrilled with the improvement, they took another step to improve their property by enrolling the north side in the CP33 field border practice (also known as bobwhite buffers). A 30-foot warm-season grass field border was installed, as well as three covey headquarter shrub plantings to provide heavier protective cover. The landowners also requested a burn plan to manage the CP33, CP14 and CP21 practices in future years when the grass stands become too thick to provide optimum quail habitat.
On another 92-acre tract (half general CRP and half wooded) Cramer and Gremaud installed several areas of edge feathering (a practice that changes older forest cover to the younger forest regeneration phase of saplings and annual herbaceous plants) and food plots for wildlife with QHI cost share. Annual disking, prescribed burning and overseeding legumes occur on various portions of the general CRP, all of which is planted to warm season grass or an orchard grass/timothy mix.
By leveraging cost-share opportunities and managing their property intensively, Cramer and Gremaud have seen some great results in a short time. No one knows what this year will hold for sure, but “the quail have been carrying on all spring!” says Cramer.
Small-acreage farmers and recreational landowners do even more to increase wildlife numbers on their properties when they work in unison—intentionally or not.
When landowners in proximity to one another use similar management practices to increase habitat on their land, they have created a landowner cooperative that is targeting a substantial portion of the local landscape. These Missouri farmers have greatly increased their odds of having sustainable quail and other game populations for the future.