Why should a landowner consider putting in wildlife habitat?
Wildlife habitat is a very broad term. Strictly speaking, many acres on Indiana farms are habitat for some sort of wildlife. The sad truth, though, is that most of that “habitat” benefits unwanted or less than desirable species (think house sparrow, European starling, rock dove, Japanese beetle, and emerald ash borer), but provides little for many of our valued native species like Northern Bobwhite, Monarch Butterfly, American Woodcock or Barn Owl. The type of wildlife habitat I am speaking of here is hard to find on Indiana farms. It’s more than a barn lot full of pigeons or a soybean field full of Japanese beetles.
“Why should I worry about wildlife habitat on my farm?”, you might ask. “There are plenty of state parks and federal lands for Indiana wildlife”, you might say. In reality, farmland acres outnumber public lands in Indiana by more than 17 to 1. And it’s the transformation of these farm acres in recent decades that has led to the decline of species like quail and many of our native pollinating insects. Our fence rows are all but gone, small woodlots have been plowed under, and our roadside field borders are maintained as well as our home lawns. This may be visually pleasing to many, but most wildlife doesn’t agree.
Soil and Water Conservation and Wildlife
Many of Indiana’s farmers have whole-heartedly embraced soil and water conservation. Sure, there’s more to be done. Our waterways still look like chocolate milk after a heavy rain, after all. What many don’t realize, though, is that water and soil conservation practices can go hand-in-hand with wildlife habitat. A major role for Farm Bill Biologists, such as myself, is to help farmers and landowners make that connection. For example: Savvy farmers realize that inputs exceed outputs on crop rows adjacent to wooded edges. That means a net economic loss on those acres in most years. Through US Farm Bill conservation programs like Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), it’s possible to receive annual rental payments to NOT farm those outside field edges. What’s more, add a little native grass to those edges, and you’ve just improved habitat for Northern Bobwhite. In addition, you’ve provided a grass buffer to slow soil erosion and filter water runoff. I’d call that a win-win scenario.
Identifying Wildlife Areas
The example above is not just hypothetical. Hundreds of Indiana farmers have implemented this very practice on their land, and received both monetary and technical assistance to do it. And the benefits are real and measurable. I want to stress that I’m not suggesting farm owners/operators convert their productive crop fields to permanent wildlife habitat. What I am suggesting is that they take a look at their land and evaluate it – especially those odd field corners, edges, and idle ground. What is its purpose? If you don’t know what purpose those odd areas are serving, then why not manage them for wildlife? If you’re ambitious, evaluate your working acres, too. There’s always room for improvement, so why not see how to improve and help wildlife in the process? These are questions that every landowner should be asking themselves.
The great thing is that you don’t have to do it alone. There are numerous professionals skilled in agricultural production and natural resources conservation. If you’re a landowner who is interested in promoting wildlife on your farm, give your local Farm Bill Biologist a call. We’re here to help, and our services are free-of-charge.
About the Author:
Zach Voyles is a Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist in Southeast Indiana with Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, Inc. Indiana’s 4 Farm Bill Biologists work in cooperation with the US Department of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to provide wildlife technical assistance to landowners interested in creating or enhancing wildlife habitat.