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Private Lands

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District biologists help create, improve private-land habitat

There is a piece of ground in Crawford County where hunters see 50 rabbits a day and as many as six or seven coveys of wild quail.

The 400-acre property is owned by a doctor, who hunts it along with four partners, including Ron Thompson. But according to Thompson, the hunting was pretty crummy 12 years ago.

“When we started, you couldn’t jump one rabbit in a day,” Thompson said. “And there were no quail at all.”

What made the difference?

Thompson and the others have been actively managing the ground to create habitat for quail, rabbits and turkeys with advice from biologists in the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife Private Lands Unit.

The property was once an even mix of forest and tillable ground being used to grow corn. Now it is a hodge-podge of habitat types and covers, from forest, to forest edge, to brushy fields with blackberry bushes to food plots with clover and corn.

“It’s different from any place you’ve ever seen,” Thompson said. “It looks helter-skelter, but it’s all by design. It’s diverse. It’s like a patchwork quilt.”

The property is an example of how landowners and hunters benefit from the advice and programs offered through the Private Lands Unit, according to DNR district wildlife biologist Mark Bennett.

“In Indiana, ninety-five percent of land is privately owned,” Bennett said. “If we are going to have an impact on wildlife resources, it’s got to be done on private land.”

In addition to offering advice, district wildlife biologists in the Private Lands Unit can direct qualifying landowners to programs that help implement habitat work.

According to Bennett, small game need the most help in terms of habitat management. Larger species such as deer and turkey are more “generalist” species that adapt to a variety of landscapes and can survive without much intervention.

Nonetheless, biologists will offer advice on whatever objective the landowner has, according to Josh Griffin, DNR private lands supervisor for southern Indiana.

“If a landowner wants to manage habitat for prothonotary warblers, or salamanders, or wild turkeys, we can help them do that,” Griffin said.

Managing with one species in mind will often benefit many other species, according to Griffin and Thompson. Thompson and the other four hunters don’t manage directly for deer. But he noted that the two deer harvested from the property this last fall were both trophies.

“All the wildlife has prospered,” Thompson said.

Griffin said that many landowners are managing for deer and turkey on their own through food plots, which are increasing in popularity. What might surprise some, however, is that food plots are often not as helpful as owners think.

“More often, what would help a species more is to provide adequate cover,” Griffin said. “That’s where a district wildlife biologist can help out.”

For interested landowners, the first step in managing habitat is to check out the Wildlife Habitat Fact Sheet at wildlife.IN.gov/3025.htm. The next step is to contact a district wildlife biologist. A district wildlife biologist can be found for your area at wildlife.IN.gov/2716.htm.

While the land Thompson hunts is special, he said that all larger, rural properties could experience the same results. All it takes is advice from district wildlife biologists and putting in the time planting, mowing, burning and chainsawing to improve habitat.

“It’s absolutely worth it,” Thompson said. “Even if guns were outlawed and we couldn’t hunt, it would be worth it just to see how the wildlife responds. It’s really satisfying to see it all happen.”

Regulations in red are new this year.

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