Landowners have a moral responsibility of maintaining their properties in order to create ecosystems that are conducive to conserving plants, wildlife and aquatic species. A failure to maintain this balance will result in the extinction of species due to over hunting and the overtaking of invasive species. Maintaining your land helps ensure that the needs of present and future generations are met.
There are state and federal agencies responsible for the maintenance of public lands. But many of these agencies also have programs that provide incentives to private landowners.
The Forest Service
The Forest Service (USFS) falls under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Established in 1905, the USFS’s perspective shifted from its previous focus on protecting land from overgrazing, controlling and fighting fires, protecting fish and game and providing public recreation to ecosystem management and sustainability of timber in alignment with other goals – including biodiversity, water quality and recreation.
The USFS provides assistance to private landowners. Some of the programs include the following:
- Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) – a voluntary program aimed at improvement of land for upland species.
- Forest Land Enhancement Program (FLEP) – an incentive program designed to maintain the long-term sustainability of non-industrial private forest that provides financial and educational assistance to regarding qualifying management plans for landowners.
- Tax Incentive Programs – land owners can be persuaded to conserve their private land is through tax incentive programs offered by their states.
Check your state’s programs
The Department of Natural Resources or wildlife management agency in your state may provide tax incentives, or funding, for the management of private, unimproved lands. In 2006, Illinois legislature passed the Conservation Stewardship Program. This was important because the taxation of unimproved land put pressure on landowners to improve their land in order to reduce taxation. Illinois recognized that this pressure was going to result in an elimination of precious environmental resources. To alleviate this pressure, Illinois opted to give significant tax breaks to landowners (in my case it reduced our annual taxes from $1200 to $18). In return for this break, landowners must work to eliminate invasive species by in an approved 5-year management plan.
Part of our plan included the following actions:
- Remove trees that are undesirable because they hinder the growth of indigenous wildlife tree species
- Remove understory and other vines that hinder the growth of desirable wildlife trees
- Treat foliage near trails and field edges, with chemical sprayers
One of the main benefits of taking a proactive approach to maintaining private land is that it can dramatically improve the presence of desirable wildlife. First, though, you must recognize which species you want to attract.
Attract, retain and increase deer populations
State and federal government can only go so far to maintain the ecosystem. Though private landownership seems miniscule (1,875,000 acres) compared to the acreage owned by the USFS (193 million acres,) it still represents a significant amount of acreage. Hunters who own land have a vested interest in maintaining the land if they hope to have successful hunts.
Most hunters and landowners recognize that there are a couple of methods to increase the presence of mature bucks. The Quality Deer Management Association offers great resources for landowners who want to work with deer habitat. Some of the methods are environmental and some are behavioral. These are some of the methods we’re following at our property:
- Foregoing the hunting young buck. It takes a buck roughly 5 years to fully mature.
- Balance the doe-to-buck ratio to 50/50.
- Limit the amount of hunters you invite onto your land. Bucks sense pressure and adapt their routines in order to survive such as moving to less-active areas and becoming nocturnal.
- Create locations where deer can feel safe and retreat, such as creating natural cover and sanctuary.
- Clearing land and planting food plots. Many crops attract deer, such as wheat and clover.
- Create a source of water and improve existing ones.
Maintaining private land requires proactive action. Even if you do not own land, there are ways you can help maintain ecosystems through getting involved.
Ways to get involved in land improvement
Both those who own land, and those who don’t, can play an integral role in preserving public and private lands. Here are a few ways to accomplish these goals:
- Becoming educated on tree species and the role they play in the ecosystem
- Inspecting trees in spring and late fall to determine overall health of trees and any insect problems that occur
- Supporting programs to preserve forests and urban trees
- Planting trees
- Reporting unusual insect or disease to local parks department, or your state’s department of natural resources
- Don’t move firewood from one are to another
Besides, any excuse to get outside, take a look at habitat surrounding you wherever you are, is beneficial to you and maybe even to wildlife around you.