493 Acres added to Byron Walker Wildlife Area
On October 5th, 2022 the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) closed on a 493 acre addition to Byron Walker Wildlife Area. This was a cooperative project between KDWP and Ducks Unlimited. The new property is a combination of cropland, riparian woodlands, mixed-grass prairie, and wetlands in the form of 1.2 miles of the South Fork of the Ninnescah River, approximately 1 mile of a branch of Mead Creek, and over ¼ mile of spring seep and beaver ponds. Croplands make up approximately 150 acres of this 493 acre tract and plans are to farm those acres to focus on pheasant production as well as deer, turkey, and waterfowl use. The riparian habitats are a mixture of both woodlands and grasslands. The woodlands are a mixture of cottonwood, willow, elm, locust, mulberry, walnut, and cedar. The grasslands are a local representative mix of big and little bluestem, indian grass, switch grass, side-oats gramma, purple top, eastern gamma-grass, and other species, generally in good condition other than the woody invasives that will need addressed. The topography shows significant drop from the upland crop acres to the river and spring.
The property adjoins the 4,685 acre Byron Walker Wildlife Area on its entire northern boundary and part of its eastern boundary, sharing approximately 2.25 miles of common border and increasing the area acreage to 5,178 acres. It is cut into two units by the Kansas/Oklahoma railroad. All of the cropland acres are located south of the railroad property. The river is located both north and south of the railroad. The Mead creek drainage is south of the railroad. As with all of Byron Walker Wildlife Area, you will need to pay close attention to the perimeter signs to see where the new addition ends and private property begins. We need to be good neighbors and respect those adjoining private properties.
Wildlife currently using this property include but are not limited to: white-tailed deer, turkey, bobwhite, ring-necked pheasant, dove, waterfowl (ducks and geese), beaver, muskrat, raccoon, coyote, bobcat, opossum, striped skunk, squirrel, cottontail, game fishes (Large-mouth Bass, Bluegill, Channel Catfish, Flathead Catfish, etc.), many non-game species as well as a number of endangered, threatened, or SINC species.
2022 Hunting forecast
With an ongoing drought covering much of Kansas, our wildlife populations are existing in extremely challenging conditions. Though this may not be very apparent in the Byron Walker deer herd, those animals will find limited nutritious "live" browse if these conditions persist into the winter season. Turkey have been down on the area for several years and this situation continues. I have yet to see a brood of turkey poults in 2022. Bobwhite numbers were extremely low in 2021. With the heat and drought this summer, I don't expect significant improvement in the quail numbers. The squirrel population is good as usual, but the drought may well limit nut production and that may well limit the squirrel numbers going into the lean months of winter. Though the waterfowl population is mostly above the long-term average, we may well not get significant stop-over use by ducks and geese due to the low water conditions in the lake, river, and ponds and the absence of water and food in the marshes.
The 2012-2014 highway expansion project on highway 54 going through Byron Walker wildlife area made some significant changes. Though many of those may be viewed as negative to our users, on the positive side, broken concrete from this project has been used to protect the Kingman State Fishing Lake dam from wave action and burrowing rodents that have plagued the structure since it was built in the early 1930's. Material for this project was donated by KDOT and Dondlinger Construction with a value in excess of $250,000. The material was placed using contracted and agency heavy equipment completing a project that would have cost in excess of $250,000 without the donated material and closer to $50,000 with the donation. The new rip rap extending into the water will provide some quality fish habitat that has been limited in this aging lake. This will improve the fishery significantly for some fish species. Some rip rap material was left over from the dam project and that material was used to build two additional rock fishing piers at Kingman State Lake as well as 2 more at the Pratt Headquarters. This quarter million-dollar project was used as match in a North American Wetland Conservation Act grant which brought approximately $160,000 federal dollars to the Byron Walker area that was used to upgrade and expand the existing wetlands north and west of the lake as well as south of highway 54 south of the lake. Further, Ducks Unlimited fundraisers were able to solicit $100,000 of donations from Phillips 66 that will also be used to create additional wetland marshes.
Drones, also known as unmanned aircraft system (UAS), have become popular in recent years. They are an excellent way to accomplish a variety of work and recreation tasks. However, there are places that they are prohibited. Our public wildlife areas are one of those places! Under Kansas regulations (KAR 115-8-13), the use of drones over KDWPT lands is prohibited except in specific UAS areas located in some state parks.
Seasonal Work Experience Opportunities
Each year I hire 3-5 seasonal employees to help with habitat, construction, maintenance, and other work on the area. I try to get individuals either in the wildlife program in college or having graduated with a degree in wildlife. Employees gain valuable experience that will flesh out their resume's once they have a degree in hand. This experience may include prescribed burning, food plot establishment, moist soil management, range management, exotic plant removal, noxious weed spraying, water-level management, pest trapping, electrofishing, fish sampling, and a variety of necessary maintenance duties. This experience is invaluable in interviews. It also helps you understand how many of the topics you study in college relate to actual work in the field. Having served on several interview panels myself, it is often easy to determine which applicants have "in field" experience and understand the specific management direction of the Public Lands Division. If you are now in college or have your degree in hand but need this kind of experience, call the Byron Walker Wildlife Area office and see if there is a job waiting for you!
Waterfowl hunters planning hunts at Byron Walker Wildlife Area this fall will reap the benefits of the Prairie Wetlands II project completed in 2019. Construction was started in November of 2017 on the north project with completion being accomplished that December. The wet conditions in 2018 and 2019 delayed the initiation of construction on the south unit. However, Kansas Dirt moved their equipment in for a startup beginning October 14, 2019, and the project was completed a few weeks later. This project should improve our capability to flood both pools in this system, providing waterfowl hunters on Byron Walker additional opportunities in the marsh!
It is normal for the road south of the Penalosa blacktop to be closed during the hunting seasons each fall and winter. However, summer visitors may have noticed it was closed a bit longer this year. This is due to a road upgrade project on this stretch of road, putting in ditches and culverts and elevating the road surface. All this work was accomplished as of October 15, 2019. We completed the project, armoring a stretch of ditch going to the north pond and also spreading rock on the road surface late last winter for the road to be opened again after spring burning was completed in that pasture. This should make the road more useable in wet weather and safer for 2-wheel drive vehicles.
2016 was a poor burning year due largely to low humidity. Only 1 day in the spring was considered safe to burn. As a result, no spring burns were conducted in the spring in 2016. Four summer burns were conducted for a total of 272 acres. This has resulted in an extended burn rotation and reduced productivity. In 2017, we had a good burn season. 6 spring burns totaling 785 acres were completed and, 6 summer burns totaling 372 acres have been completed. The good rainfall this year should result in good habitat conditions being promoted by both these fires and the subsequent grazing on those acres. The summer burns are especially important on Byron Walker. They tend to be more harmful to woody invaders and also set back the grass, letting the forbs assume more dominance. As a result, the habitat will be used by whitetails for food plots this fall, and winter and the bobwhite and turkey will utilize those areas for brood-rearing next spring and summer.
2017 grazing on Byron Walker will also see some changes. Recent research in Missouri had shed light on what we had already expected-grazed grasslands produce significantly more bobwhite. A significant part of Byron Walker Wildlife Area has been grazed for years to realize that kind of production. New acres will be grazed for the first time in 2017 to realize the benefits of cattle impacts on the habitat to gain those improved bobwhite numbers. The grazing should also improve habitat for deer and turkey as the cattle put pressure on the grasses and allow more forbs to grow. Our grazing rates are significantly lower than those on private acres in the county so substantial cover will be left for all or our grassland wildlife species.
2018 gave us a fairly good spring burn season with approximately 658 acres being burned. The summer burn season was unusually turbulent and only 79 acres were burned. Overall, this was a less than stellar total and put some acres behind on the expected 4-year burn rotation. Tracts not burned in 2018 will be added to the 2019 burn plan and some of those will be caught up at that time. We continue to maintain our fences to support our grazing program. As we do these updates, we try to replace the old walk thru gates with styles that can provide access 12 months of the year. This should help keep cattle on the correct side of the fence while providing safe access to sportsmen. Work on invasive woody plants has continued with additional groves seeing girdling work directed at Siberian Elms and Locust trees. The north part of the NAWCA project was completed in 2018 by the contractor. While those marshes were dewatered, area staff took the opportunity to replace another water control structure in the dike between the lake and the biggest marsh. The old structure had rusted to the point of failure. A new marsh plan was also started in 2018, with the hopes of getting a grant and starting construction in either 2019 or 2020. Significant brush control work was completed in the Bison Marsh, across the highway north of that marsh and west of SW 90 Ave. This will take follow up treatments to remain grassland, but it should make for much more productive acres in the coming years. Many of the marshes (11) on the area were again disked and planted to Japanese millet. These stands all produced good stands and accounted for excellent waterfowl attraction this season. Floods had a significant impact on the area in both September and October. In both events the river came out of its banks and inundated hundreds of acres on the area. We had some expensive damage to roads and fences and the loss of wildlife was severe. I had a young lady on the area for an internship all fall and most of the winter. Lexi jumped right into her role and made great strides learning the ropes managing public land.
2019 is quickly coming to a close. This year we completed 8 spring burns totaling 525 acres and 5 summer burns totaling 400 acres. Again, weather has prevented us from catching up. The goal was close to 1200 acres this spring and over 500 acres for the summer. We installed 2 water control structures in the tiny NE marsh late this summer. Visitors may see several new projects on Byron Walker. We should finally get started with the south part of the NACWCA wetland project and be moving dirt. The project will raise and extend existing dikes and build a new dike in the bison marsh area to catch water tha is currently escaping the system.
I often talk about plant succession as a major part of our management for wildlife on Byron Walker. Plant succession is the natural change in plant communities through time. It is going on all around us and is often hard to discern without peeking back at photos from the past in order to see those changes. Areas that were dirt change to weed patches. These later become grassland. Shrubs invade the grassland, and eventually trees start invading as well. There are places on Byron Walker that were milo fields when Mr. Walker first came to the area that are now dominated by 70-foot-tall trees. Very few of our wildlife species thrive in 70-foot-tall trees, so you can see how important it is to maintain our lower successional wildlife habitats. A new project directed at this problem is our use of tree girdling. Several invasive tree species have reached an age on the Byron Walker where they are aggressively seeding and expanding. Serious culprits on the area are Siberian Elm, Black Locust, Honey Locust, and Eastern Red Cedar. These trees were planted on the area when it was bare in order to provide cover. In the years since, these trees have started spreading by seed and root away from the rows in which they were planted and are taking over more productive grassland and shrubland habitats at an alarming rate.
Luckily, cedars cut below the lowest green branch are dead and won't be a problem further. However, the elm and locust trees aggressively re-sprout from the base and at nodes on the roots when they are cut, so cutting the tree and walking away just makes more trees. These trees can be cut down and the stump treated with chemical with great success, but the piles of trees left behind cause serious issues for years to come. As a result, Byron Walker Wildlife Area staff have started treating these trees by girdling, making a 3 inch deep cut all the way around the tree trunk then treating the cut with chemical-killing the tree. This allows the tree to stand and be habitat for a number of cavity nesters and foragers until it comes down over time. Periodic understory fires will consume the falling debris as it accumulates and reduce mobility issues. By eliminating many of these seed source trees, the cost of dealing with their seedlings over time will be greatly reduced and useable space for our game species will be maximized. Further, by removing these densely growing invaders, we will allow sunlight to reach the ground stimulating basal plant growth that will be better cover for deer, turkey, quail, and other game species.
The past several months have been marked by losses in area staff. Chris Becker, Cheney Wildlife Area Manager, left us for an instructor position at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center. Andrew Schaeffer, Cheney Fisheries Biologist, passed away unexpectedly and is sorely missed! Also, Delmer Schrag, a long-time seasonal working with me at Byron Walker Wildlife Area passed away. His love of this area rivaled my own and his help and support cannot be replaced!
2020 will be long remembered for the Covid 19 virus. The Byron Walker Wildlife Area was not immune to its effects. Covid precautions led to a cancellation of all spring burning activities. Six summer burns were completed, amounting to 360 total acres for the year. Due to a project in 2019, a limited walnut log harvest was conducted in 2020 with the income being used to update equipment on the area. Eleven marshes were dewatered and seeded to millet this summer and going into the waterfowl season those marshes are proving very attractive. Phillips 66 donated money to the Byron Walker area for wetland construction and I developed plans for 5 new marshes for consideration. We will probably enter those funds into a NAWCA grant and try to get as many of them completed as the money will fund. Much work was done this year to apply for another North American Wetland Conservation Act grant. Waterfowl hunting has gotten so popular on the area that the constant disturbance is forcing waterfowl to use surrounding private waters more than they use our lake and marshes. Five additional marshes/wetlands are planned to be built in coming years to aid in providing more space for both waterfowl and waterfowl hunters. Modifications to regulations are also being discussed that would give migrating waterfowl more refuge in time, but those changes have not been initiated yet. Our tree cutting contractor worked on Elm and Locust cutting in the western unit of pasture #6. This removal should greatly reduce the number of seedlings produced that would have to be dealt with in the future. I also worked on plans for another pasture unit (#8) that would put 320 acres of native prairie under grazing, to improve the plant diversity and structure, improving its productivity and usefulness for bobwhite, deer, and turkey.
So far in 2021, things have shifted to a more habitat focus. We had a good summer burn season and got a lot of woody vegetation set back and forbs promoted. As always, we hope the next burn season gives up enough days to meet our goals. We had our heavy equipment contractor come in and clean the silt deposits out of two canals that feed the lake and marshes and raise the dike on one of those to better contain inflows. We added rip rap to 3 pond dams and one marsh dike on the area to help prevent damage from beavers and muskrats that have been a problem. The new NAWCA grant application was proposed and approved. Kingman's NRCS staff (Mike and Pam) found us a substantial amount of completed projects that we could use the value of for match for this grant and they deserve much of the credit for its size and value! Many of our existing wetlands were planted to Japanese millet this summer and hunters should see waterfowl utilizing those resources. More recently, staff mulched, mowed, and cut the encroaching woody species in the old bison pen marshes with plans to follow up with chemical treatments to return those acres to more of a wetland/grassland community. Staff also hosted the Kansas Youth Range Camp field tour on Byron Walker, giving many of Kansas' young grassland managers an opportunity to see a patch burn/patch grazing range management program at work. Thanks go out to Keith Murrow for joining in this effort and giving wildlife management lessons in the classroom portion of the camp. Channel Catfish were again stocked in 4 of the area ponds and should provide many hours of angling pleasure to area fishermen. Eagle Scout candidate, Chris Wyant, brought his group of supporters to the area and built 2 beaver analogs on one of the major springs on the area. This should also provide more huntable water for BWWA waterfowlers. A wetland ecosystem diorama memorial was dedicated in September remembering Delmer Schrag (long time Byron Walker Wildlife Area employee) and Lee Queal (long time KDWPT and DU employee). These gentlemen both dedicated much of their life to improving the wildlife habitats in Kansas and on Byron Walker Wildlife Area.
Refuges (new in 2019)
There seems to be some confusion concerning refuges and how they need to be treated. There are two refuges on Byron Walker, one encompassing the eastern 2/3 of the lake, and one surrounding the headquarters. New in 2019, the refuge surrounding the headquarters has been upgraded to "Refuge Area, Closed to All Activities"! These are wildlife refuges, so all wildlife residing in them are protected. That means that sportsmen using Byron Walker cannot enter into these refuges for any purpose associated with hunting. This can include scouting, driving, setting stands, or even blood trailing. Further, all wildlife residing within those refuges must not be disturbed or induced to leave the refuge. This can be most problematic on the lake where the boat ramps are located in the refuge, and one must travel through the refuge to reach the hunting area. This can be mitigated by avoiding waterfowl until you have passed out of the refuge. Further, giving the refuge a reasonable buffer while you hunt will help protect against wounded game making it into the refuge and creating a dilemma for the hunter as to whether to pursue it. At the headquarters, hunters cannot park inside the refuge and then walk through the refuge to initiate a hunt outside the refuge. Further, with the new designation being closed to all activities, activities like mushroom hunting, bird watching, and airing dogs are also prohibited. Hunters need to understand that a refuge violation can lead to fines, jail time, loss of equipment and game, and revocation of licenses or hunting privileges. If you have questions about our refuges, please call the headquarters and talk to the manager at 620-532-3242.
Unfortunately, with the 4-lane upgrade to highway 54, we lost a number of access points along the highway. The new parking lots that we did get are very nice and provide parking for a number of vehicles. Hunters should know that most perimeter gates are long chained so that hunters can have reasonably easy access through the fence with guns, bows, or dogs. In many places where there are no gates or where cattle grazing may occur during open seasons (turkey), we have provided stiles where hunters can use these steps over the fence to avoid having to cross the barbed wire. However, much of the perimeter is still fenced and hunters must negotiate crossing the fence to gain access. Hunters need to be aware that they have no right to modify our fences in any way. Removing staples and clips, twisting wires together, pulling wires onto post tops, and cutting wires is vandalism and will be prosecuted vigorously. Efforts have been made to make reasonable access for you. Please do not waste the staff's time fixing things that weren't broken instead of working on habitat projects that can increase game populations. If you have a particular access need or are limited in mobility, please contact the manager. Thank You!
New Public Lands Regulations Enacted:
The Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission approved new regulations relating to hunting on public lands. Designed to provide hunters with equal opportunities on limited public lands, the following regulations have been enacted:
- Baiting, and hunting over bait is now illegal on public lands. Bait is considered any grain, fruit, vegetable, nut, hay, salt, sorghum, feed, or other food or mineral capable of attracting wildlife. Liquid scents and sprays are not considered bait.
- Only two portable blinds or tree stands are allowed per hunter on public lands.
- Portable blinds and tree stands must be marked with the owner’s name and address or KDWPT number. Portable blinds may not be left unattended overnight on public lands.
- Decoys may not be left unattended overnight on public lands.
- Commercial guiding is prohibited on public lands and WIHA!
New in 2010 we started using a different grazing system on the area. As with any system, it is good to change things up from time to time in order to not select for or against the various habitat components the same way for too long. The new system is modeled after the Oklahoma State University style Patch Burning/Patch Grazing system. This system utilizes fire to move cattle impacts from unit to unit within a given pasture. Each year approximately 1/8 of the pasture will be burned in March/April. The cattle will graze that unit heavily due to the grass being most nutritious and free from thatch after the burn. Then, in July/August, another 1/8 of the pasture will be burned, moving the cattle from the first burn to the newly burned unit. In successive years additional units will be burned in the same pasture until in 3-4 years the entire pasture has been burned and the cattle impacts have been moved across all of the acreage.
The benefits of this system are many. First, there will not be entire pastures burned at one time, leaving large portions of nesting habitat unusable for 1-2 years. Smaller tracts will be burned, leaving larger nesting components untouched through the nesting season and requiring less staff to conduct these smaller burns. Second, the increased animal impact within the burned units will improve the forb component in that unit for successive years, reducing the need for the disturbance disking was previously being done. Third, the ungrazed units will have increased cover for game and will also have improved fuel when they are burned resulting in improved brush control. Fourth, this system will result in 8 different stages of succession within a grazing unit after the first full rotation of 4 years. This should provide improved habitat for deer, turkey, quail, and other grassland wildlife. This change will also allow the staff to spread the burning acres over two burning seasons instead of one, reducing the impacts of weather, staff shortages, and burn bans over time.
There are also many benefits for the cattle producer with patch burning. First, by late July and early August, cattle are down to grazing forage that is in the 6% protein range. Patch burning in July/August promotes new growth subsequent to the burn that will provide forage with approximately 16%-18% protein, improving cattle gains when they would be slowed otherwise. Second, the patch burning promotes plant diversity, which provides additional nutritious plant species (forbs) often absent in continuous systems. These plants also aid in nutrient cycling in the soil and add nitrogen at higher concentrations than found in traditional grazing systems. Third, for those landowners with Sericea Lespedeza infestations, patch burning sets back this invasive plant and shuts off its chemical defenses, allowing cattle to graze the plant and prevent it from seeding. This is the only method of grazing that has shown the capability to stabilize Sericea populations. Fourth, because growing season burns provided access to high quality forage during the fall months, the patch burn cows do not need any supplement until the first of January each year. This is in contrast to the traditionally managed cows where protein supplement is provided starting the first of November. Fifth, the spring burning season is often shortened by bad weather or burn bans due to weather. The summer burning season is characterized by more stable weather conditions and burns are less volatile due to green growth. Using the patch burning/patch grazing system, landowners can spread their burning operations over two seasons that offer more burning days overall, increasing their ability to accomplish burning over more acres safely. Other benefits of patch burning include: uniform utilization of forage over the entire pasture over a period of years; ease of checking cattle, deferring grazing before or after burning is not required and livestock can be left in the pasture while burning the next patch; forage accumulated in rested patches is a form of grass banking, which is holding forage in reserve for drought years; and better brush control is achieved because fire in rested patches is more intense than in pastures managed traditionally.
Feral Cedar Control:
Feral cedars (cedars that have sprouted and are growing wild) are a serious problem across Kansas. Byron Walker Wildlife Area has the same problem. These trees often sprout in disturbed places or under existing timber
where they slowly grow and increase in density and distribution. For a time, they are good cover for wildlife. However, too much of anything can be bad and this is the case with cedars. From a wildlife standpoint, when the cedars are crowding out other beneficial cover and food types and closing in on 100% ground cover, they have become detrimental to wildlife. In addition to negatively affecting wildlife, these dense stands of cedars are a refuge to nest predators, pose a fire hazard, use valuable groundwater, and produce tons of irritating pollen. In 2010, working with a Kansas Forest Service grant, the staff at Byron Walker Wildlife Area are cutting understory cedar trees that have become a fire threat as well as a problem for wildlife production. Cedars close to highway 54, that would likely aid a wildfire jumping the highway were being cut and stacked. The stacks will be allowed to dry and drop their leaves for a couple of years, then burned or chipped. The resulting habitat may look thin for a time, but it will eventually fill in with more beneficial plants that will provide better and more sustainable habitat for our wildlife populations. Problem cedars will also be removed outside of the Forest Service project as a normal habitat management activity. Significant control is achieved as a result of our prescribed burning program. An annual goal of over 1000 acres burned helps keep our habitats in more productive successional stages and also controls young cedar sprouts before they get too big for an average fire to kill.
Phillips 66 Marshes
After our successful completion of Prairie NAWCA II (North American Wetland Conservation Act grant) project in 2019, Ducks Unlimited mentioned Byron Walker in it is talks with donors. Phillips 66 stepped up to the plate and offered up a $100,000 donation to Byron Walker Wildlife Area for further marsh work. I worked up plans for 5 potential new marshes/wetlands to build. It became apparent that more funds would be needed to accomplish those projects. I approached Mike Clover, District Conservationist for the NRCS in Kingman County and county Ducks Unlimited President, to ask if he had knowledge of any habitat projects completed in the county in the past 2 years. Between pond construction projects and grass plantings, he, and Pam Stasa (Conservation District Manager) came up with $120,000 worth of completed projects that we could use as match in a new NAWCA grant proposal. This should ensure at least $220,000 are available to fund these wetlands. We just received official word that the application was accepted as part of Kansas Prairie Wetlands 8. Work could start on these wetlands as early as July 2021.
Our invasive tree control efforts continued in 2020 and 2021. Basinger Tree Service cut trees in the two western-most sections on Byron Walker, concentrating efforts on removing invading Honey Locust, Siberian Elm, and Eastern Red Cedar. They cut both young trees invading our grasslands as well as the adult trees that were the seed source of those invaders. This should create improved structure in the native timber left standing as well as reduce the spread of these species in those sections. We plan to continue this work using both contracted operators and agency staff and equipment with a goal of getting these species controlled on Byron Walker.
Wetlands are a valuable habitat on Byron Walker. They have their own unique maintenance requirements. Frequently, beaver and musk rats can cause problems by digging dens in the dams and dikes that impound the water. The repair cost of fixing these dikes and dams can add up quickly. To be a bit more proactive, I had our heavy equipment contractor put rip rap on 3 of the area pond dams and one marsh dike where Mr. Beaver has made a regular pest of himself. The concrete rubble (rip rap) should deter these rodents and reduce future costs maintaining these wetlands.
Making the best use of the water available to fill Kingman State Fishing Lake (KMSL) and the marshes that surround it is a regular concern. In the 30 years I have been managing KMSL, keeping the lake full through the summer months as well as filling the marshes come fall has gotten to be a bigger problem. It seems our water inflows have gradually lessened to the point that most Augusts the lake tends to be 1 foot below full. The marshes have also become more difficult to fill early in the fall as inflows slow. The two canals that aide in providing water to KMSL periodically fill with sand and silt and must be cleaned out to get the water moved into the desired location more efficiently. These 2 canals were cleaned out this past winter/spring and lake levels have remained strong.
American Disabilities Act
Providing for our disabled constituents is a constant part of our plans on all our areas. We periodically get inspected by ADA inspectors to help us meet those needs. After our most recent inspection in 2020, you will see that we are working to that end by providing designated handicap parking pads in several locations at the Byron Walker headquarters as well as Kingman State Fishing Lake. Please help us provide for our handicapped friends by not blocking their limited parking spots.
Another year has come and gone and soon another quail season with it. The W-2's have arrived, and it gets a guy thinking if a refund is coming or if Uncle Sam is going to ask for more. Well, quail managers are also doing the math for the season, trying to decide if good investments were made, if sufficient savings have been held back. It's all about the math!
I'm sure by now that you are wondering just what I am talking about. It all boils down to bird population math. I drove by a pickup on the area today 3 times trying to catch up with the hunters that occupied it. Never happened to get them tracked down, but it got me to thinking about the effects of their trip. Many times, this season we have all enjoyed the pictures and videos of successful hunts and the pile of birds on the tailgate, dog box, farm implement, or stone post. Unfortunately, too many of us use the size of that pile as the primary measurement of that success. Problems arrive when our success this season affects our productivity for next season. When you talk about public land, all too often the math doesn't add up.
In general, quail populations can be harvested to the tune of 40-60% without affecting next year's population. Where your land falls within that range is affected my many variables. However, as we get into late season, the birds we harvest may well be costing us population potential next season. Early in the season our harvest is often considered compensatory. That means that the birds we are taking home would have not made it to next years' breeding season anyway. Later in the season the math changes. Once that last compensatory bird is harvested, we're in the red. Every bird after that bird may well remove an entire covey from next season's population. This is called additive mortality.
On public land I think we're into additive mortality sometime late in November or early December most years. These late season hunts, though satisfying to the soul, may well deepen the deficit of next season's bird numbers. It's hard on wildlife managers to have the habitat perfect for quail production, have weather that is conducive for production, yet not be able to achieve a robust population because not enough breeding birds are there to fill that habitat. Quail are density dependent breeders, producing more or larger broods in response to low populations, but they may well not be able to overcome such a large deficit.
The same conditions might occur on private land too. This can happen from a single group making too many trips and taking too many birds, or it could be from a number of groups that don't account for the other groups' harvest. On some well managed private holdings, birds are estimated preseason, and a number is set for the annual harvest. Once that number has been taken, the season is closed. This is much harder to do in a public ground setting.
WIHA is susceptible too, but often isn't held to the same parameters. Why? Many of the WIHA tracts are smaller and the population is buffered by more lightly hunted adjoining ground. Quail, by nature, are not the best public land birds. They are much less mobile than pheasants and, being "gentleman bob", are often more susceptible to the gun. Add to that the protection we give pheasant hens and their more polygamous nature, and pheasants are a much better bird for public situations.
There are many ways sportsmen try to control their harvest. The best is mentioned above and involves setting a harvest goal based on population surveys and sticking to it. Another is when hunters often don't shoot into smaller coveys. This is often most successful in preventing environmental and predatory death within that day, not overharvest. Again, math is in order. Suppose you have a population of 36 quail in 3-12 bird coveys. If you were to never shoot into a covey of 8 or less birds, it is feasible with daily recombination of coveys that you would end the season with only one covey of 8 birds. That's a harvest of almost 78%.
Tax season is upon us! Time to take stock of where we are and where we want to be. Hopefully, we didn't over-spend our limited quail budget this season and saved a nest-egg for the coming year. So too, it is time to plan investments like prescribed burns, disked strips, grazing, and other projects that might stack the deck for a successful breeding season to come.
Manager's Ramblings: Realistic Expectations
In the past 35 years, I have been privileged to work on over a dozen wildlife areas in Kansas. In that time, I have talked to literally thousands of hunters and anglers. With that many discussions, many trends tend to show up. One that occurs regularly is that of unrealistic expectations. Sportsmen come to our public wildlife areas to enjoy their passion- hunting. All too frequently they come with expectations that the area they have chosen to hunt can’t provide. Many call before planning a trip with those types of expectations and are disappointed by the forecast they receive. Still others arrive to hunt for species that may not even exist on the area or find the population is so low that their expectations will never be met. Almost no wildlife area holds every game species indigenous to Kansas. Game species are often regional, and many are adapted to specific habitats that not every wildlife area possesses. However, many sportsmen flock to areas with signs that read: Public Hunting, Wildlife Area, or Hunting/Fishing/Furharvesting, and expect all species, full bags, and trophy class animals. Can these expectations be fulfilled? Sometimes they can, but often they cannot for a variety of reasons.
Let’s discuss the wildlife areas themselves. Many Kansas wildlife areas are centered on riparian corridors. The habitat on these wildlife areas lend themselves to woodlands and the associated transitional habitats between the woodlands and the surrounding upland habitats. The quality of these woodlands also varies with better mast producing timber found in some areas and lower quality tree species in others. Even the age of the woodlands affects their capability to produce game. Many wildlife areas also have croplands. These may be planted in a variety of agricultural crops ranging from forage crops, cereal grains, and row crops; all managed to produce or attract game. The quality of the cropland and its capabilities also varies from area to area. Some areas have the best cropland in the county, others the poorest. Knowing what the area can produce weighs into what your expectations should be. Many wildlife areas also offer a variety of upland habitat types that may include grasslands, shrublands, or other habitat types that will support their own wildlife communities. Visitors must know what those habitat types in this specific part of the state are able to support in order to judge what their expectations should be when planning a hunt. Another habitat type found on many of our wildlife areas is wetlands. Wetlands are managed for waterfowl attraction and often support “bonus” species that add to the attractiveness of these habitats. Wetlands vary in their ability to attract waterfowl due to their size, location, available water, and food availability. Some wetlands are filled by pumping ground water; others are filled by natural surface flows.
Management also has a significant impact on whether a sportsman’s expectations may be met. However, even the best management cannot change what an area is capable of producing beyond a certain point. Management on Kansas Wildlife Areas may include timber stand improvement, prescribed fire, cropping, disking, planting, chemical applications, mowing, roller-chopping, brush control, grazing, and even harvesting. A Wildlife Area Manager has responsibility for making management decisions on each wildlife area and his/her decisions are generally framed by the capability of the habitats and location of the wildlife area. A single manager may control 4,000 to 20,000 acres. Their ability to manage those acres is affected by the manpower, budget, time, and equipment available to them. Often, weather events affect their capability to manage an area. Frequently decisions must be made as competing demands on their time limit what techniques may be used, how often, and to what extent. All of these managers also have responsibilities like administration, wildlife surveys, maintenance, construction, law enforcement, public relations, and training. I’m sure there is not a manager in the State of Kansas that has too much time on their hands. Management goes on year-round on wildlife areas and, if you hunt public land often enough; you will sooner-or-later have a hunt disturbed by management activities.
Expectations! First, when you hunt a public hunting area in Kansas, the first thing to remember is it is PUBLIC! You will generally not have the area to yourself, and you will have your hunt affected by other hunters in the field. Sometimes this will be accidental and will be resolved respectfully, other times it will not. Everyone should be respectful of the other users and do their best to not negatively affect each other. However, it is inevitable that interactions will occur, and your expectations may not be met due to competing hunters’ activity. Another perspective on this “public” aspect is that the very nature of the pressure put on game populations on public areas is much higher than that associated with private land and one can expect that game populations will frequently be below the carrying capacity of the habitat due to heavy annual harvest. Further, the age structure of many species will be reduced due to that heavy hunting pressure and trophy animals may be rare. Animals just don’t get to grow to the age needed to acquire trophy class. Secondly, you need to know, before going to a wildlife area, what its wildlife production capabilities are. It will do you no good to hunt a wildlife area for a species that doesn’t occur there. You can do this by studying the habitat, distribution, and density of the wildlife species you intend to hunt and its availability on the wildlife area you intend to hunt. You can also call the local wildlife manager and ask what your expectations should be for that game species on his/her area and what part of the area is best targeted for that species. You might also ask if there are areas that would be best avoided due to management activities going on or traditional heavy hunter use. Third, remember that all of the non-migratory species of game are a finite population locally and your expectations later in the season may need to be lower than what they were on opening day. As populations dwindle, game contacts will become fewer and success rates will decline. When you look at a public wildlife area, it is often a good idea to understand what habitat exists on adjoining private land. Wildlife do move back and forth on and off the public land and sometimes you may be able to time your hunt to correspond with those animals being on the area vs. when they are off. This applies to waterfowl, deer, turkey, and upland game among others. On some areas, game moves off the area during periods of high pressure only to move back on later in the season presenting good opportunities for harvest after the opening day pressure has passed.
In summation, many of our public hunting areas in Kansas provide quality opportunity for hunting recreation. However, they are limited in some ways as well. Do your homework before leaving on your hunting trip and you can expect better results than if you had arrived uninformed. If you arrive with reasonable expectation, you will rarely be disappointed in the eventual results! Finally, bring a kid! Your enjoyment will be multiplied if you are providing a bunch of “FIRSTS” to a new hunting buddy!!!
2021 Archery 3D Shoot Calendar:
The South Fork Archers will hold their 3D shoots with an 8:00-9:00 a.m. trickle start.
Archery shoots by the South Fork Archery Club:
Mar 14 – Fun Shoot
April 11 – Hide & Seek ShootFirst Sunday
May 9 – 3D Shoot
June 13 - 3D Shoot
July 11 – 3D Shoot
Aug 8 – 3D Shoot
Sept 12 – 3D Shoot
All shoots have a trickle start from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m. Concessions will be available. No Crossbows. No Alcohol on State Grounds.
Jayhawk Retriever Club: Hunt test scheduled April 3-5, 2020.