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Pheasants Forever (PF) Wildlife Biologist

 

The Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologist partnership position in Pine County was established in February 2019, to enhance wildlife habitat and conservation efforts in the area.  The position works directly with local conservation partners such as the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Pine SWCD, MN DNR, other government entities and non-profits to address resource related concerns on private lands and identify programs that may be available to help landowners achieve technical and/or financial assistance.  The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is one of the most well know Farm Bill conservation programs, but there are several others not as well known. The farm bill biologist out of the Pine SWCD currently administers enrollment in RIM (reinvest in Minnesota) and WIA (walk in access) programs for Pine County. Contact Pine County's Pheasants Forever (PF) biologist, Shayna Vendela, for further information about your conservation project at:  320-216-4243 or 320-280-4104.

 


 

Sharp-Tailed Grouse and Brush Management

 Once the most common grouse species in Minnesota, the sharp-tailed grouse has fallen on hard times. Loss of large, contiguous areas of brushland has limited suitable habitat for the bird, and in turn the population has dropped dramatically in the last several decades. But not all is lost for this unique game bird. The East-Central population of sharp-tails extends into parts of Itasca and St. Louis counties and runs south through the large majority of Carlton and Pine County. With several areas still hosting a population of sharp-tails and great potential for creating more habitat, Pine County is essential in maintaining and expanding the population of these birds in Minnesota. With the NW Wi population just across the river, the potential for a habitat corridor to promote genetic diversity exists.  This article will give a brief overview of how you as a landowner can manage for brushland and how that can help sharp-tails and other species that use brushland habitat.

Brushland is a term used to describe a wide variety of habitats. These habitats are for the most part open lands with grasses, sedges, and forbs but maintain a patchy distribution of woody plants like shrubs and scattered small trees. The density of these woody plants varies depending on the habitat from more common to rarely present. Brushland can also be used to describe habitats on upland and lowland sites. Essentially these habitats are transitional areas that are too open to be considered forest, but not open enough to be considered grasslands. Sharp-tails need these habitats to survive. A diverse mixture of brushlands is essential for them. They need more open areas for their spring dancing and mating rituals, and more brushy areas for cover and winter browse. Large contiguous areas of these mixed habitats are crucial for their survival. Adjacent pasture and hay fields are great compliments to these habitats as well.

There are several things you can do to help maintain or create suitable habitat on your property. Mowing old pasture or brushy areas will help keep brush and trees from taking over, but still allow for patches of brush to grow. Sheering larger areas of brush will help open areas and create a patchier distribution of brush. Prescribed fire also will limit woody vegetation growth while helping keep a diverse habitat of plants. And in heavily wooded areas that you wish to open up, a timber sale can be beneficial. And if you have old fields, if you don’t plant it to trees, letting it convert naturally will create a grassy habitat with patches of brush that is perfect for brushland species. If you have a forest stewardship plan, brushland management can be incorporated into it and these acres would still qualify for SFIA and the 2c programs.

Farms can help support sharp-tails too. If you have livestock, use rotational grazing. It will help create a more diverse landscape. Slightly adjusting haying practices will increase the likelihood of successful nesting and brood rearing. Planting cover crops and small grains in fields create good areas for sharp-tails to feed.

One of the biggest things you can do is to look at your neighbor’s property and see what they have on the landscape. To have a sustainable population of sharp-tails, there needs to be about two square miles, or roughly one thousand acres, of contiguous habitat. That is a much larger area than what the average landowner owns. But if you can add habitat on your property that is adjacent to suitable habitat on your neighbor’s property, you are heading in the right direction. And if you notice potential areas on your neighbor’s property to tie into habitat on your land, reach out to your neighbor and encourage them to create brush habitat.

Brushland not only helps sharp-tailed grouse, but a wide variety of other animal species as well. Game species like woodcock and white-tailed deer often use brushland for cover and feeding grounds. There is also a wide array of non-game animals that use this habitat as well, many of which are threatened or endangered species. Small rodents and furbearers frequent these brushlands too. Some of these species do not need as much areas as a sharp-tail so managing smaller acres of brushland is still beneficial to promoting diverse wildlife.

 If you would like to know more about sharp-tail management or about brushland management in general, contact Pine SWCD or your local DNR office. To learn more about sharp-tail grouse in Minnesota visit the DNR page or the Minnesota Sharp-tailed Grouse Society page.