Park the Bush Hog to Benefit Wildlife

How's your habitat?

CALICO ROCK (AGFC) – Spring is, by far, my favorite time of year. Flowers are blooming, bees are buzzing, and turkeys are strutting in every field. Arkansas weather is beautiful and everyone wants to get outdoors. For those managing open land for wildlife, spring is prime time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

As tempting as it may be to hop on the tractor and enjoy the warm country air while mowing your fields, spring can be a sensitive time for wildlife. As early as April 1, turkeys are beginning to nest and the first fawns will be born a few weeks later. This period of reproduction lasts through Aug. 1, when the last of the newly born bobwhite quail begin to fly.

Agricultural activities such as bush hogging, disking, and haying can destroy nests and injure young wildlife from April 1 through Aug. 1. If fields must be worked during this time, they should be mowed from the center outward to allow wildlife to escape. Chains mounted on the bucket of a tractor also give wildlife an early warning and greatly reduce tragic mishaps.

Mowing and disking in August will avoid unnecessary disturbance to young wildlife and greatly improve habitat quality. Work during this period can encourage growth of native wildflowers – forbs like black-eyed Susan, partridge pea, butterfly milkweed and Illinois Bundleflower – that provide food for bobwhite quail and other upland birds. Be sure to leave at least 3 to 4 areas the size of a truck for every acre of field to grow into brush to provide cover for small game. Longer strips will provide even more cover. Blackberries in these small thickets can also attract deer in early bow season. Thickets can be carefully managed and should be mowed before taken over by saplings. A few mast-producing trees such as oaks, black cherry, mulberry and persimmon that sprout naturally can be left in the field to produce food and attract wildlife. Avoid mowing after Sept. 1 to allow enough re-growth to provide winter cover.

Undesirable species in fields can be controlled by spot-spraying with herbicide even during the nesting season with little disturbance to wildlife. Spot-spraying has been shown more effective in controlling trees than mowing in scientific studies. This work can be done with a tractor or ATV mounted sprayer that consumes less fuel than a bush hog and uses little herbicide. Be sure to properly identify the plants you want to control and select the best herbicide to do the job. Arkansas Game and Fish Commission private lands biologists can help with this task and may be able to lend herbicide sprayers.

Even mowing outside of the April to August period by itself rarely provides wildlife benefits. Mowing, when used to prepare areas for disking to create early successional vegetation without planting, planting food plots or conducting prescribed burning can be beneficial based on the site specific conditions.

As busy as our lives can be, we sometimes assume we must do something to get something in return. However, the best thing we can do for upland wildlife is to park the bush hog and other implements from April 1 through Aug. 1 to avoid disturbing young and reproducing wildlife. So, spend this spring relaxing and enjoying the wildlife on your property and allow your favorite critters time to do the same.

For more information on establishing and maintaining land for wildlife habitat improvement and programs to help, contact an AGFC private lands biologist at: Fort Smith, 877-478-1043; Harrison, 870-741-8600 ext. 114; Hope, 877-777-5580; Calico Rock, 877-297-4331; Little Rock, 877-470-3650; Brinkley, 877-734-4581; Jonesboro, 877-972-5438 and Monticello, 877-367-3559.

By Clint Johnson, AGFC Private Lands Biologist, Central Arkansas Area