In southeast Washington, and many other big agriculture areas, hunters are blessed with vast farmland enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) through the Farm Service Agency. Basically, through CRP, Farm Service pays farmers and land owners an acreage rental fee for reestablishing or enhancing habitat. The CRP acres are invaluable to wildlife and hunters.
While it’s great to have large farm tracts enrolled in CRP, one common misconception about habitat enhancement is that little benefit comes from small tracts (~10 acres or less). Whether you have 1 or 1,000 acres, there are simple, cost effective options that can draw and hold upland birds, as well as other wildlife. Here are some options and techniques you may be able to implement at home.
Food plots are always a solid option for providing important forage. Broadleaf plants such as brassicas (turnips), sunflowers, peas, and alfalfa provide crucial insect forage for young birds, while grains such as wheat, sorghum, and millet provide seed forage for adults. You may want to experiment with your own mix of crop species to maximize benefits for upland birds, deer, and pollinators while you are at it. I plant brassicas and spring wheat in my 0.2-acre plot and have been pleased with the number of pheasant, quail, and deer that make it a regular stop in their daily forage routine. Planting food plots can be quite simple requiring only a tiller or drill seeder, glyphosate (herbicide), and seed.
Brush piles are another great option providing forage and dense escape cover, protecting upland birds from predators, wind, and precipitation. Brush piles may be strategically placed, like in food plots or near other forage and watering areas for maximum benefit. Another bonus is that brush piles can be free (minus some sweat and gas) if you have any clean-up projects going on around your property. I deposit all of my tree and shrub debris in piles and large coveys of California quail use them consistently, even within an hour of having created them.
Another technique described as “edge feathering” can be useful if you have more than one habitat type on your property. For example, if you have a stand of trees that gives way to a grass pasture and can give up the pasture fringe, trees can be dropped along the pasture edge to allow grass to grow up around the downed trees providing quick escape cover and brood-rearing habitat.
Finally, invasive species removal and planting native trees, shrubs, grasses, and forbes are options to provide a variety of valuable cover types and forage alternatives. Evergreens like Rocky Mountain juniper can provide important snow and wind breaks and create edge effects that benefit all wildlife species, while native grasses provide critical nesting and brooding habitat for upland birds like pheasant.
More information on small-tract habitat enhancement is available by visiting the Pheasant Forever “Pheasant Blog” at the web address below and consulting Pheasant Forever’s Essential Habitat Guide. If you want to speak to person, feel free to contact me through my Contact page.