Cooperative effort improves 1,760 acres of wildlife habitat

LINCOLN -- The Post Rock Ringnecks Chapter of Pheasants Forever in Lincoln County has completed several habitat improvement projects this year. During the spring of 2005, the chapter control-burned 21 separate Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields totaling 1,760 acres.

Burning CRP grass improves habitat for upland birds in several important ways. Burning removes old plant residue and opens up the grass at ground level, allowing young birds access to a field they would otherwise find difficult or impossible to move through.

Many of the fields that were burned this spring had previously been inter-seeded with alfalfa. Alfalfa grows quickly after a burn, offering excellent brood cover, the place where newly hatched chicks find food. Burning also promotes the growth of beneficial plants (forbs) such as annual sunflowers and other native plants that provide brood habitat. Burning can also help control tree invasion in CRP fields, which has become a serious threat to upland game and other grassland species.

The Post Rock Ringnecks Chapter also inter-seeded a mixture of forbs and legumes into approximately 230 acres of CRP after those fields were burned in the spring. These were fields that had never been seeded with anything but grass. Native warm season grasses are critical nesting habitat for many species, but forbs and legumes are often the missing ingredients in those fields. These plants -- such as Maximilian sunflower, showy partridge pea, Illinois bundleflower, and common alfalfa -- attract insects and provide cover needed for young birds to survive.

With the help of Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) and by taking advantage of cost-share offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Post Rock Ringnecks completed these habitat projects at no cost to cooperating landowners.

“This chapter has really been great to work with,” said Matt Smith, district wildlife biologist with KDWP. “Those guys volunteered a lot of their time helping out landowners in the county and did some innovative habitat work.”

The chapter's efforts are not only helping private landowners with their habitat projects, but much of their work is focused on lands enrolled in KDWP's Walk-In Hunting Areas Program (WIHA). Out of the 1,760 acres enhanced this year, 75 percent of those acres were enrolled in WIHA, which is open for public hunting in the fall. WIHA tracts that were enhanced this year were posted with special signs indicating the type of habitat improvement that took place on that property.