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Proper pine management improves wildlife habitat
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Before the area was settled, Mississippi's pine forests managed themselves naturally and provided excellent wildlife habitat.
Today, those forests are overrun with mid-story hardwood species, which compete with timber production and take away the thick growth of grasses, legumes and other herbaceous vegetation that wildlife species need to survive.
Ben West, wildlife specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said a process called Quality Vegetation Management benefits both timber production and wildlife habitat.
"Research has been ongoing at MSU for several years on Quality Vegetation Management, or QVM. This is a simple management process that consists of herbicide treatments, a prescribed burning program and, optionally, fertilization in conjunction with the herbicide and burning," West said. "The first herbicide treatment has to be done following a thinning operation, during mid-rotation. If you do it before that, the forest canopy is too thick for needed sunlight to reach the forest floor."
Apply the herbicide amasapere, or Arsenal, at a rate of 16 ounces per acre. Apply the herbicide with a skidder or aerially anytime during the growing season, usually between June and the first frost.
"Follow this treatment with a prescribed burning program, which is usually done in late winter or early spring. County foresters can help with the planning and implementation of a prescribed burn," West said. "Optionally, research has shown that applying a 0-26-26 fertilizer at around 200 pounds per acre can help spur the growth of grasses and legumes."
Besides decreasing competition for valuable nutrients for the pine trees, West said getting rid of the mid-story hardwoods significantly improves wildlife habitat.
"One research project shows QVM resulted in a 350 percent increase in the amount of forage plants for deer, which represents about a 500 percent increase in the amount of digestible protein," West said. "A variety of other wildlife species also benefit, including Northern bobwhite quail, songbirds, turkey and others."
West said the costs of implementing QVM can range from $70 to $110 per acre.
"This is not pocket change, but research shows the increase in timber production may offset the application cost long-term," West said.
For the short term, cost-share options are available. The Natural Resources Conservation Service administers two programs, the Conservation Reserve Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, that provide up to half the cost of implementation. The Forest Land Enhancement Program, administered by the Mississippi Forestry Commission, also offers cost-share options.
Landowners increasingly are turning to hunting leases to bring in extra income. Extension forester Marc Measells said this route offers landowners the opportunity to tap into the several million dollars hunters spend annually in Mississippi.
"There are several benefits of leasing hunting rights on your land, the first being an annual income that can help offset property tax cost each year," Measells said. "Another potential benefit is that you have someone out there watching your property. This can help reduce the number of people trespassing, and therefore poaching, on your land."
The presence of hunters on the land also can deter trespassers who might dump trash or otherwise vandalize the property. They also would be available in the event of a fire on the property.
The most typical types of hunting leases are annual, seasonal and short-term. Rates for leases vary from $2 an acre to $40 an acre, with average deer hunting land leases running $5 to $10 an acre. Measells said landowners often set the rate according to their annual tax cost.
Landowners should have a written lease agreement prepared by an attorney. Also, make sure hunters carry liability insurance.