Begin your management plan by obtaining a drawing, map, or aerial photo of your land. Aerial photographs of your land are available at no charge from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) office in each county. High-quality maps are also available through online mapping services such as Google Maps and Bing Maps.
On the map or photo, mark different habitat types with colored pens. Each type of habitat meets different wildlife needs, so for best results they should be intermixed on your property. Note areas that are isolated from other habitat types. Animals such as quail and rabbits require that the habitat types be close together. Others, like deer and turkey, can easily travel several hundred yards to find food, cover, or water.
Next, mark areas that might be improved for wildlife. Land can be improved in a general way — for instance, by letting field areas grow up — or it can be improved to attract, maintain, or increase certain species of animals. In the latter case, you’ll need to learn the animals’ habitat requirements: how much territory they need, what they eat, and where they find cover.
Usually your habitat improvement plan will involve adding or removing vegetation. In fact, wildlife management is basically plant management. Landowners can change wildlife numbers on their property by changing the supply and arrangement of plants that attract, feed, and shelter them.
You can add plants that provide food for rabbits and other ground feeders if that’s what you are interested in. Or you may want to cater to deer or other animals that eat higher on brush and trees. Your wildlife plan should ensure an all-season variety of seeds, berries, and plants. This sometimes means controlling the growth of some trees and bushes.
A soils map can help you find the best locations for plantings and will indicate their potential for growing various plants and the suitability of sites for pond construction. A detailed soils map of your area is available from the NRCS at USDA.gov. You can also search for their Web Soil Survey.
Keep a notebook of your progress, including when, where, and how you carried out the plantings and other improvements. This record will help you plan ahead to avoid placing plants in an area where they grow poorly or where they might encroach on other habitats. Take photos of habitat changes. Before and after pictures of the land show whether or not you are getting results. You also can talk to neighbors and several government and nongovernment agencies with professionals who can offer insights on the long-term soundness of your plan.
Often landowners wrongly assume that if they improve food and cover areas, large numbers of wildlife will remain permanently on their property. Usually, wildlife response is less dramatic. Your acreage may not gain a permanent flock of turkeys or a herd of deer, but it may become an important part of their range. Your efforts make a difference, even if wildlife uses your land only seasonally or temporarily.
The following chapters describe a large number of management practices you can include in your habitat improvement plan. Wildlife sometimes responds slowly to changes in habitat, so the main thing is to get started now.