Habitat Management for Wildlife Use
In Texas, one of the seven main management categories for the wildlife tax valuation is habitat control, or habitat management. A wild animal’s habitat is its surroundings as a whole, including plants, ground cover, shelter and other animals on the land. Habitat control/management means actively using the land to create or promote an environment that benefits native wildlife on your property.
For wildlife use, management activities that contribute to habitat control or management include:
- Grazing management
- Prescribed burning
- Range enhancement
- Brush management
- Forest management
- Riparian management and improvement
- Wetland improvements
- Habitat protection for species of concern
- Managing native, exotic and feral species
- Wildlife restoration
Wildlife Management for Texas
Grazing management means shifting livestock and grazing intensity to increase food and animal cover or to improve specific animals’ habitat. Grazing management focuses on the kind and class of livestock grazed, livestock stocking rates, periodic rest for pastures by controlling grazing intensity and/or the sign of excluding livestock from sensitive areas to promote vegetation protection and recovery or to eliminate competition for food and cover. Deferred grazing can last up to two years on properties with an ag tax valuation, but indefinitely on property with a wildlife tax valuation.
Fencing can also be used for habitat control. Fencing can be used to improve or protect sensitive areas, woodlands, wetlands, riparian areas and spring sites. Property owners that wish to maintain livestock should review their grazing plans annually to ensure they meet the overall wildlife management guidelines.
Prescribed burning is defined as the planned application of fire to improve habitat and plant diversity, to increase food and cover or to improve particular species’ habitats. If the property owner has a wildlife management plan, that plan should indicate the frequency of planned burnings and the minimum percentage of acreage to be burned. A plan may designate the areas to be protected or excluded from burning, but should remain flexible during periods when conditions are not favorable for burning, such as during periods of drought.
Range enhancement means to establish native plants such as grasses and forbs that provide food and cover for wildlife or help control erosion. Protecting, restoring and managing native prairies also is considered range enhancement. The plants chosen and the methods for establishing the plants should be appropriate to the county. Non-native species generally are not recommended, but if required for a specific purpose, non-native species should not exceed 25 percent of the seeding mix.
The seeding mixtures should provide for maximum native plant diversity. Many broadleaf plants, such as weeds and wildflowers, provide forage for wildlife and/or seed production. Owners should encourage weed and wildflower species by using the methods appropriate to native rangelands, land devoted to the federal Conservation Reserve Program and improved grass pastures (for example, Coastal Bermuda). Some periodic noxious weed control may be necessary in fields converted to native rangeland to help establish desirable vegetation.
Brush management may involve maintaining, establishing or selectively removing or suppressing targeted woody plants species (including exotics) to encourage the growth of desirable trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs for forage and nesting or protective cover for selected wildlife species. Brush management also includes keeping the proper kind, amount and distribution of woody cover for particular species.
When it comes to a management plan for a wildlife tax valuation, a useful brush management plan should examine wildlife cover requirements, soil types, slope angle and direction, soil loss and erosion factors and plans to control reinvasion as part of an overall wildlife management plan. This practice also should focus on retaining snags to provide cover and nesting sites for cavity-nesting animals. In addition, herbicides, if used, should be used in strict accordance with label directions.
In areas where brushy cover is limited, property owners may establish native tree and shrub species to provide food, corridors and/or shelter using appropriate plant species and methods. Forest management involves establishing, maintaining, harvesting, selectively removing or suppressing trees or woody species (including exotics) to allow for the growth of desirable trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs for forage and nesting or protective cover for selected species. Forest management activities also include keeping the proper kind, amount and distribution of woody cover for selected animal species.
As with brush management, this practice also includes retaining snags to provide cover and nesting sites for cavity-nesting animals. Forest management activities include pre-commercial thinning or non-commercial thinning, which involves reducing the stocking levels in a stand to increase the sunlight that reaches the ground to increase vegetation or plants in the understory. Property owners should establish native tree and shrub species to provide food, corridors and/or shelter using species and methods appropriate to the county. Owners should attempt to restore important forested habitats including bottomland hardwoods, longleaf pine, bogs, mixed pine/hardwood areas and upland hardwoods. Owners also should avoid breaking up large forested habitats for some wildlife species.
Managing Riparian and Wetland Habitat
Riparian management and improvement focuses on annually and/or seasonally protecting the vegetation and soils in riparian areas. These are the low areas on either side of stream courses. Riparian management and improvements can include providing livestock alternate watering sites; deferring livestock grazing in pastures with riparian areas during critical periods; excluding livestock from pastures with riparian areas; and fencing to exclude or provide short-duration livestock grazing.
Property owners should attempt to restore important forested habitats including bottomland hardwoods, bogs, mixed pine/hardwood areas and turkey roost sites and avoid breaking up large forested habitats in riparian areas.
Wetland improvements provide seasonal or permanent water for roosting, feeding or nesting for wetland wildlife. This practice involves creating, restoring or managing shallow wetlands, greentree reservoirs, playa lakes and other moist soil sites.
Habitat Management for Endangered Species
Habitat protection for species of concern refers to managing land to provide habitat for an endangered, threatened or rare species. Habitat protection includes managing or developing additional areas for protecting nesting sites, feeding areas and other critical habitat limiting factors. This protection can be provided by fencing off critical areas; managing vegetation for a particular species; maintaining firebreaks to ensure critical overstory vegetation; and annually monitoring the species of concern. Any broad-scale habitat management for migrating, wintering, breeding neotropical birds (primarily songbirds) should be specific to the ecological region.
Managing Exotics for Habitat Improvement
Managing native, exotic and feral species for the wildlife exemption involves controlling the grazing and the browsing pressure from native and non-native wildlife, particularly white-tailed deer and exotic ungulates, such as axis deer. This practice is designed to prevent overuse of desirable plant species and improve the habitat and plant diversity for native animals. To ensure that an owner’s objectives are met and that the animals are not exceeding the habitat’s carrying capacity, property owners should monitor the harvesting of animals and vegetation use over time. Owners also meet the requirements of the wildlife tax valuation by controlling other exotic and feral animals to improve the habitat and reduce the negative effect on native wildlife.