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Published on: Jun. 17, 2011

Private land Conservationist

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Spraying Herbicide

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Recently Cleared Woodland

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years. However, these evaluations were always from the field edge, and usually from the seat of my truck or William’s utility terrain vehicle. Today I had the opportunity to see what was going on deep in the center of the woods.

The extra sunlight and continued burning after the thinning had achieved the desired effect, as the diverse ground layer of grasses and forbs was definitely more developed. In fact, it looked perfect for bobwhites, and I thought to myself, “What if all of William’s native warm season grass fields looked like this? He might have to implement some kind of quail population control effort!” There were scattered patches of blackberry and sumac, but the woody sprouts weren’t much of an issue. Overall I was very pleased with the progression of this woodland.

The first thing I noticed with respect to wildlife was the glaring presence of each black oak in the woods. They were the primary nut producers that fall, and it appeared as if someone had run a rototiller around the dripline of each one. I had wondered how heavily the deer would use an open woodland habitat, but each of these track-covered circular feed lots quickly put that question to rest!

After a few minutes of walking, I found myself well into the interior of the woodland. Pausing upon a blackberry thicket, I found several piles of rabbit scat deposited on the snow. Upon further examination, I noticed several entrance paths leading into the thicket. Earlier, I’d seen a number of similar tracks in the snow, but assumed they were from squirrels. It was now obvious that the cottontails had colonized this stand.

With a sense of gratification, I resumed my walk. However, not three steps later there was an explosion of feathers from the blackberries, as at least 10 bobwhites made their escape. I thought to myself, “Wow, I must be 200 yards from the nearest field and we’ve got cottontails and bobwhites making themselves right at home.” William had told me that they were beginning to find birds in the woodland, but it was still exciting seeing it firsthand. It was one of those occasions that reminded me of why I do this work.

Several minutes later, I found myself back at the truck, but not before encountering more signs of life—including a second covey! While exhausted from trudging through the snow, I was inspired by what I’d seen. Through their diligent efforts and persistence, the Wrights had transformed their woodland and achieved their objective. It made me wonder why more people weren’t doing this on their property. William and Gail are unique in that they seem to do things in a big way, but surely other landowners could achieve similar results with modest efforts.

Each piece of land and landowner has potential, and the lessons learned here will certainly be useful in helping others achieve their own goals. As a private land conservationist, I never know what the next opportunity might be, or when the next “William Wright” is going to call—but, I look forward to the challenge.

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