Nov 20

We manage the 80 acres for wildlife under a Texas law, administered by Texas Parks & Wildlife, that prescribes seven activities–of which at least three must be actively pursued every year.  You can find more about them at the TPWD site (on the Links page) but here are a few of our specifics.  My wording here may not be exactly theirs.

Habitat Management.  Because we’re also managing for prairie restoration (useful for prairie wildlife), and we have a few acres of riparian woods and a few acres of upland brush (that we call “the dry woods”) , our habitat management activities include work in each type of habitat.   We remove invasive native and non-native plants (chinaberry and ligustrum in the creek woods, Johnson grass and juniper and prickly pear from the grassland),  plant “missing” native species (native grasses, forbs, and woody plants in all habitat situations.)   We do seasonal mowing of the grassland to encourage a healthy mix of grasses and forbs, pruning and occasional plant removal in the two wooded areas to maintain a healthy balance and vertical structure of native woody plants and vines.  Because of proximity to both residential and commercial structures, we don’t use fire here.  So far, despite the absence of fire (a standard prairie management tool) we have seen a steady increase in plant diversity and return and spread of native species.

Erosion Control.  This land was badly eroded (and actively being eroded) when we bought it;  it gets runoff from higher ground on several sides.  We built, and maintain, check dams and gabions (rocks enclosed in metal mesh) to slow water and prevent erosion.  We have revegetated bare areas on lesser grades to hold soil in place.   All check dams and gabions get inspected after large rain events.

Predator Control.  Predators of concern on our land are mostly non-native: cats, dogs, and fire ants.    The only native predator we’re really concerned with is the brown-headed cowbird, a nest predator that impacts the reproductive success of several species of concern in our area:  Painted Bunting and Black-capped Vireo.   We participate in the cowbird trapping program every spring, and have seen an increase in number of pairs of Painted Buntings that nest here,  and in their reproductive success.

Supplemental Water.  Critically important on our land, as we have no permanent water source: the creek is seasonal (was dry for almost two years before rain started again September 2009) and we don’t have a well (the water table has been dropping fast the past ten years.)    We have built “rain barns” to capture seasonal rains and watering facilities at each one that are tailored to wildlife, offering both ground-level and slightly elevated drinking areas.   Water circulates with solar-powered pumps.  In hot dry weather, these wildlife guzzlers and their supply (pumps, lines, storage tanks) require daily checking.   In wet weather,  less often.

Supplemental Feed.  Because habitat and food sources for wildlife are disappearing rapidly in this area, and because we are a resource for both migrating birds passing through and migrants who winter here, we provide supplemental food at multiple sites, titrated to the birds and wildlife on the place in a given season.  Feeding peaks in winter, when an additional 15-20 species are on the place.   Periodic droughts also reduce wildlife food resources and sometimes require feeding through more of the year.

Supplemental Shelter. Again, because habitat is being lost in this area, we have enriched the habitat available here with a variety of structures, from brushpiles (constructed in several ways, for the use of different species) , to standing snags,  debris “humps” in the creek woods, etc.  Nestboxes are another common form of supplemental shelter, and we hope to include them later.

Census.  Good management depends on knowing what you have, and how many.    Because our place is a skinny strip, the more active wildlife move across it, and we’re never quite sure how many are “ours.”   There’s still open land to part of the south, all the west, and a section of the north lines.  The east and half the south are bordered by development–highway, construction yard, residences–with residential contact on two areas of the north.   We use photography (both in hand, and with automatic cameras) to get a better idea of what’s there and what’s using which resource.   We are interested in all classes of plants and wildlife–documenting everything we can find–and our metric for success is increasing diversity of natives.   See discussion on the 80 Acres website.