1. Know Your Space
It is impossible to manage your property for its maximum benefit without knowing the features that play a role in land management. This list contains some key areas of a property which require attention:
- boundary lines
- rain gauges
- wildlife shelters
The Texas A&M Forest Service recently created a "Map My Property" tool which allows you to create a personalized map of your property by drawing boundary lines, fences, roads, and landmarks. This can be helpful to visualize key property features and the resources you have to manage.
2. Know Your Soils
Soil influences every other component of wildlife habitat (including food, shelter, water, and space). This key aspect of the land will determine the productivity of an area. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) developed the Web Soil Survey - an online mapping tool which allows you to locate your property and access extensive descriptions of its soil structure. The first article in our "Resources for New Landowners" series provides step-by-step tutorials on using this resource to better understand your soil structure.
3. KNOW YOUR PLANTS
Healthy soils invariably contribute to the growth of healthy vegetation. The resources below, in addition to the Web Soil Survey mentioned above, are all excellent sources of information about plant identification and/or management tips:
- Texas A&M AgriLife Herbarium - ID information for native Texas species found throughout the Hill Country and South Texas Plains.
- Noble Research Institute Plant Image Gallery - Extensive photo gallery and search engine to assist in plant identification.
- Range Plants of North Central Texas - Provides 1,450 photos, focused on leaves, flowers, fruits, and smaller details that can aid in plant identification.
- iNaturalist - A citizen science app where users can get help with species identification and contribute scientific data.
- Texas A&M NRI Quail Plant of the Week YouTube Playlist - A series of short videos covering quail-friendly plants and their unique features.
- Know Your Grasses - A publication focused on both native and introduced grasses in Texas featuring detailed line drawings of each species.
4. Know your animals
Having a diverse plant community could increase the number of different wildlife species on your property. Creating species lists and monitoring the time of arrival for migrant species can help your awareness of the wildlife present in the area and make future management decisions much more simple. There are countless resources to help you identify the critters on your land by their appearance, calls, tracks, distribution, and life history. Some of our favorite resources include:
- Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Wildlife Resources
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds & the Merlin Bird ID App - These avian resources provide life history information, samples of bird calls, and key identifiers for bird species found throughout North America.
- TPWD Wildlife Fact Sheets - Detailed pages filled with information on the visual description, life history, and distribution of native Texas species.
- Texas Wildlife Identification Guide - A guide focused on the identification of native and exotic species in Texas, especially game species and fur-bearing animals.
- Nature Tracking - Provides photo galleries of North American animal tracks and helpful tips on how to identify species from the marks they leave behind.
5. Know Aldo Leopold's Tools of Wildlife Management
- Axe: This includes all aspects of mechanical and chemical brush management. Physically removing or altering brush allows a higher diversity of plants to thrive and attract more wildlife species.
- Cow: Proper levels of grazing and livestock rotation over time can encourage a healthy vegetation community.
- Plow: Tilling soil to create disturbance encourages herbaceous growth for locally-adapted species. If needed, seeding recently disturbed areas with native species can create "food plots" which provide a year-round source of food for wildlife.
- Fire: Prescribed burning increases land health in several ways. This can include nutrient cycling and moisture filtration into soil, which often lead to increased levels of biodiversity.
- Gun: Population management can be beneficial when species such as white-tailed deer begin to exceed the carrying capacity of the land.
8. Know how to measure success
After a lot of time, energy, and financial input into making beneficial changes on your land, it is crucial to be able to measure if your efforts were successful. This list encompasses the main elements which can show the success of management efforts:
- Species Diversity Lists - What plant and animal species are present? How many species are there?
- Population Sizes - Are overall population sizes of desired species increasing rather than decreasing?
- Sex Ratios - Does your land support a balanced sex ratio for most species present?
- Offspring - What is the ratio of juveniles (young) to adults?
- Cover - Is there an increase in quality and/or quantity of wildlife cover?
- Resource Use - Are wildlife species utilizing the resources you have provided (e.g. habitat, nest boxes, feeders)?
- Harvest Data - Has harvest of game species on the land increased?
9. Know Your Neighbors
Cooperation among neighbors is one of the most effective ways to manage smaller properties consistently. Benefits of knowing and communicating with your neighbors can include:
- Tracts of land will be maintained under the same general management goals.
- One wildlife biologist can work with a group of neighbors and assist in creating cohesive and complementary land management plans.
- The effects of fragmentation will be lessened by maintaining the same types and quality of habitat across tracts of land.
10. Know what is on the horizon
Texas is continually changing; as the state's population and urban areas continually expand, are you prepared for the ways in which this might impact your property or local area?
Created with images by skeeze - "milky way stars night" • snarlingbunny - "dirt soil potting" Other photo credits: Abigail Holmes & Brittany Wegner, Texas A&M NRI