LITTLE ROCK (AGFC) -- Spring is the season that puts all of Arkansas outdoors into motion. As tempting as it may be to jump on the tractor and enjoy warm mornings working your property, you may be doing more harm than good.
"Everyone wants to get out and improve their property," said Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Private Lands Biologist Clint Johnson. "But sometimes the best improvement you can do is to leave it alone and let things get a little wild."
According to Johnson, April marks the beginning of fawning season for deer as well as nesting season for many ground-nesting birds. Fields full of seed-bearing plants and broad-leaved weeds are essential food sources for next year's crop of turkeys, rabbits and other upland game, but the animals need thicker cover for shelter.
"Spend this spring relaxing and enjoying the wildlife on your property and allow your favorite critters time to do the same," Johnson said.
If fields must be worked from April through August, landowners can take a few extra precautions to give wildlife a chance to avoid the mower blades.
"Start at the center of the field and work your way out," Johnson said. "Going from the outside in can trap young wildlife into a smaller space, but pushing them out from the innermost part of the field will let them escape."
Mounting chains to drag at ground level on the bucket of the tractor also helps.
"The chains will help spook wildlife and get them out of the tractor's path," Johnson said. "The more warning the animals have, the less likely you'll have a tragic mishap."
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 northern bobwhites and other upland birds. Be sure to leave at least 3-4 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.
"Just be sure to mow these thickets in August before they are taken over by saplings," Johnson said. "A few mast-producing trees such as oaks, black cherries, mulberries, and persimmons that sprout naturally can be left to produce food and attract wildlife. Avoid mowing after September 1 to let enough re-growth provide winter cover."