Introduction to Habitat ManagementThursday, February 02, 2017
It is hard these days to read any article about hunting and not
read something about the importance of habitat management. Wildlife
biologists and managers frequently stress habitat management, but
what is habitat? Most people know they should be managing their
habitat, but few know what this really means, much less how to do
it. As a matter of fact, when asked what they are doing to manage
their habitat, most hunting clubs respond by saying that they plant
food plots. Although valuable, planting food plots is not a "magic
bullet" and it does not replace the importance of managing the
What is Habitat?
Generally, habitat can be described as all of the food, water,
and cover resources that wildlife require to survive. These three
resources must be available in sufficient amounts to maintain a
healthy wildlife population. Habitat requirements are different for
each species of wildlife, although some species have very similar
habitat requirements. For example, wild turkey and bobwhite quail
occur and thrive in very similar habitats.
management is often necessary
to provide year-round, high-quality forage.
Food is a very important part of wildlife habitat because
animals require proper nutrition to remain healthy, grow,
reproduce, raise offspring, resist diseases, and escape predators.
Different wildlife species require different food resources, and
these foods often change seasonally. For example, a deer will eat
mostly high-quality forbs, legumes, and browse plants during the
spring. As summer progresses, these higher-quality plants become
less available and deer shift their diet more towards
moderate-quality browse such as shrubs and vines. During the fall,
a deer's diet may shift to acorns when they are available, and then
shift again to browse and even some grasses during the winter. Even
when food is available it must be the right kind of food to meet
the nutrition demands of wildlife. For example, a pine forest with
many sweetgum trees at ground level may look "green" and healthy,
but deer do not like to eat sweetgum. Thus, it is easy to see the
importance of managing habitats to provide year-round, high-quality
Water is required by wildlife for digestion, maintaining body
temperature, and other life processes. Adequate amounts of
freestanding water (springs, creeks, farm ponds, lakes, etc.) are
generally not a concern for most of Mississippi's wildlife because
of our abundant rainfall, and some animals can even get all of
their water needs from eating succulent green plants and dew on
Distibution of Resources
Cover is a habitat's ability to provide the protection that
animals need to survive. It shelters animals from bad weather
conditions and conceals them from predators while they eat, sleep,
and care for their young. Cover needs are different for each
species; for example, bobwhite quail require grasses and forbs at
ground level to protect them from avian predators while they forage
whereas a raccoon can live practically anywhere, including cities
and garbage dumps!
In order for wildlife to thrive, each habitat resource must be
available within the area used by that species. Unfortunately, a
forest does not always provide the right amounts of the needed
resources on its own to support the number of animals that we want
For instance, take a hunting club located in the pine belt that
is devoted to turkey hunting. We know that turkeys require a
somewhat open layer of grasses and forbs along the ground in which
their poults can safely forage for high-protein insects and plants.
However, the club's pine forest, in this instance, is too thick
with undesirable hardwood trees (like sweetgum) so the desired
plant communities cannot develop. Thus, they need to apply habitat
management practices such as selective herbicides, prescribed fire,
creating wildlife openings, and fertilizing native vegetation to
create the right conditions for turkeys to thrive.
The good news is that one management practice may benefit more
than one species of wildlife. In the turkey hunting club example,
the plant communities created by our management not only benefited
turkeys, but quail coveys also increased due to better nesting
habitat, deer now have higher quality food sources, and certain
bird species like Bachman's sparrows and pine warblers increased in
abundance. Additionally, the timber value of their pine trees
increased because sweetgum trees that were competing for growing
space were removed.
The purpose of habitat management is to improve existing habitat
to benefit wildlife. We can often increase the amount of wildlife
in an area, improve their quality and health, and encourage them to
use areas that they currently are not using just by manipulating
the habitat. Unfortunately, there are still limitations to what we
can do. We will never be able to produce a Boone & Crockett
buck behind every tree or enough doves flying to shade out the
It all comes down to one thing - soil. An area's ability to
produce quality wildlife is dependent on its soil fertility.
Higher-quality soils, such as in the Delta, will generally produce
larger deer than the sandy, poor-quality soils of the Gulf Coast.
But within each of Mississippi's nine soil regions, certain habitat
management techniques can be used to improve the quality and
quantity of wildlife in that area.