FAQ: Our Wildlife Management Project

What do you mean by wildlife?
We mean native wildlife (not introduced species) of all kinds, from invertebrates like insects and crayfish to the more obvious amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.

Don't you need more acreage to accomplish anything?
No. A small acreage like ours can't sustain large-animal populations, but we can protect and support smaller ones. Our limiting factor is water, not space: there is no permanent source of water on the place.

What wildlife do you have?
See the bird and non-bird lists. These links change as we find and identify more species. Some of these (coyote, fox, bobcat, deer, turkey, great blue heron) are on our land only part of the time--they use other resources in the area as well.

So what do you do to "manage" these things?
Basically, we provide what they need in terms of food, water, and habitat--shelter for living and reproducing--and protect them from disturbance.

How do you do this?
It's simple in theory, and complicated in practice. We encourage the spread of native plants (which provide both food and shelter.) This includes removing grazing pressure, mowing timed to control invasive non-native species, hand-grubbing of invasive woody species in the grassland, and planting species which should be here but were extirpated earlier. We have built check-dams and gabions to control erosion and enable re-vegetation. This in turn has provided longer-lasting rainwater pools for wildlife. In addition, we've built a "rain-barn" structure with storage tanks to store rainwater for a small wildlife "guzzler" that provides the only permanent water out on the land. Nearer the house, we have a complex water garden, also rainwater supplied, in which amphibians are breeding successfully. Seasonally, and year-round in dry years, we supply supplemental food to both migrating and breeding bird populations.

What habitat types do you have?
We have three basic habitat types: grassland, brush/dry woods, and riparian woods. Grassland has the most acreage, and we are doing prairie restoration on that. The brush--a mix of cactus and scrub--is on a raised rocky knoll. The riparian woods are along the seasonal creek and its tributary. The map shows where each is on the property. We're lucky to have this much variety in such a small acreage.

What's prairie restoration?
Prairie restoration is an attempt to re-create a native grassland--in our case a mix of tallgrass and midgrass prairie. Restoration ecology is a discipline in its own right, and recognizes that the original ecology can't be recreated in one human lifetime--but a functional semblance can. By replacing non-native pasture grasses and forbs with native grasses in the original flora and native forbs, the restored prairie can once again sustain prairie wildlife.

What good is brush?
Brush is a habitat type, and as such home to species which prefer it to others. The open structure, separated but dense cover, and often abundant food supplies make it desirable for many bird species as well as deer. Most of our winter-resident migrant birds stay in the brush; only a few species prefer the riparian woods.

What are the special challenges of wildlife management on a small property?
Small properties are more affected by management of neighboring properties than large ones are. For instance, roads and paved areas bordering a property will shed rainwater (usually very dirty water) onto the land. If there are a thousand acres to absorb this, it will be a minor problem, but the additional runoff on a small piece of land may require intense intervention to prevent damaging erosion. The same is true of chemical pollution in runoff (from farm chemicals, for instance.) Invasion of non-native plants proceeds from the margins, and again has more effect on small properties, especially those bordered by roads, yards, and farmland.

Rapid development in an area affects all adjoining properties, forcing wildlife onto smaller and smaller areas. Moreover, small properties tend to have more neighbors, and each of those neighbors can create havoc. Someone setting off fireworks in their backyard can start a grass or brush fire; someone dumping chemicals over the fence can poison plants or animals. Intentional mischief as well as accidental damage is not uncommon, from poachers sneaking in to hunt to people dumping a litter of unwanted kittens or arsonists setting fires.

Small properties cannot sustain the full ecological community of large ones, which means that humans must function as the missing parts. For instance, on very large properties, natural predators (mountain lions, wolves) can keep a deer herd in balance with its resources. Small properties can't sustain the prey population to keep a large predator (not to mention what the neighbors would say) and the large animals that these predators feed on quickly increase to the limit of the food supply. The manager must then regulate the population size to the habitat resources. Here in central Texas, white-tail deer are an abundant wildlife species which readily outgrows its resources; hunting is the usual management tool. Hunting on a small property requires great care in order not to risk injury or damage to neighboring properties, people, and livestock. Lesser population overages (cottontail rabbits, raccoons, fox squirrels) are usually leveled out fairly quickly by the smaller predators still in the area or by disease.

Some common interventions on large properties may not be possible or desirable on small ones: fire, for instance, is a common tool of grassland managers, but if a small property is surrounded by residences, getting a controlled burn permit may be difficult to impossible. (Depends on the size and shape of the property.) Hunting (as mentioned before) is limited by the size of the property and the necessity to keep shots within the boundaries.

Contents of these pages Copyright 2005 Elizabeth Moon

Back to Archive

MoonScape80 Acres