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Habitat Management – Texas Wildlife Valuation

Wildlife need four things — food, cover, water, and space. A wild animal’s habitat is its surroundings as a whole, including plants, ground cover, shelter and other animals on the land. Habitat control — or habitat management — means actively using the land to create or promote an environment that benefits wildlife on the land. For the purposed of the wildlife exemption, activities that contribute to habitat control or management include:

  • grazing management
  • prescribed burning
  • range enhancement
  • brush management
  • forest management
  • riparian management and improvement
  • wetland improvements
  • habitat protection for species of concern
  • managing native, exotic and feral species
  • wildlife restoration

Grazing management means shifting livestock and grazing intensity to increase food and animal cover or to improve specific animals’ habitat. Grazing management focuses on: 1) the kind and class of livestock grazed; 2) stocking rates; 3) periodic rest for pastures by controlling grazing intensity; and/or 4) excluding livestock from sensitive areas to promote vegetation protection and recovery or to eliminate competition for food and cover. Deferred grazing can last up to 2 years. Seasonal stocker operations also may be appropriate. Supplemental livestock water—provided by earthen tanks or wells—may be useful when implementing grazing rotation.

Appropriately designed fencing can play an important role in grazing rotation plans. Fencing also can be used to improve or protect sensitive areas, woodlands, wetlands, riparian areas and spring sites. Property owners should review their fencing practices and grazing plans annually to ensure they meet the overall wildlife management goals.

Prescribed burning is defined as the planned application of fire to improve habitat and plant diversity, to increase food and cover or to improve particular species’ habitats. If the owner has a wildlife management plan, that plan should indicate the frequency of planned burnings and the minimum percentage of acreage to be burned. A plan may designate the areas to be protected or excluded from burning, but should remain flexible during periods when conditions are not favorable for burning such as during periods of drought.

Range enhancement means to establish native plants—such as grasses and forbs (weeds and wildflowers)—that provide food and cover for wildlife or help control erosion. Protecting, restoring and managing native prairies also is considered range enhancement.

The plants chosen and the methods for establishing the plants should be appropriate to the county. Non-native species are generally not recommended, but if required for a specific purpose, non-native species should not exceed 25 percent of the seeding mix.

The seeding mixtures should provide for maximum native plant diversity. Many broadleaf plants, such as weeds and wildflowers, provide forage for wildlife and/or seed production. Owners should encourage weed and wildflower species by using the methods appropriate to native rangelands, land devoted to the federal Conservation Reserve Program and improved grass pastures (for example, Coastal Bermuda). Some periodic noxious weed control may be necessary in fields converted to native rangeland to help establish desirable vegetation.

Brush management may involve maintaining, establishing or selectively removing or suppressing targeted woody plants species (including exotics) to encourage the growth of desirable trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs for forage and nesting or protective cover for selected wildlife species. Brush management also includes keeping the proper kind, amount and distribution of woody cover for particular species.

A useful brush management plan should examine wildlife cover requirements, soil types, slope angle and direction, soil loss and erosion factors and plans to control reinvasion as part of an overall wildlife management plan. This practice also should focus on retaining snags to provide cover and nesting sites for cavity-nesting animals. In addition, herbicides, if used, should be used in strict accordance with label directions.

In some areas, where brushy cover is limited, property owners may establish native tree and shrub species to provide food, corridors and/or shelter using appropriate plant species and methods.

Forest management involves establishing, maintaining, harvesting, selectively removing or suppressing trees or woody species (including exotics) to allow for the growth of desirable trees, shrubs, grasses, and forbs for forage and nesting or protective cover for selected species. Forest management activities also include keeping the proper kind, amount and distribution of woody cover for selected animal species.

As with brush management mentioned above, this practice also includes retaining snags to provide cover and nesting sites for cavity-nesting animals. Forest management activities include pre-commercial thinning or non-commercial thinning, which involves reducing the stocking levels in a stand to increase the sunlight that reaches the ground to increase vegetation or plants in the understory.

Property owners should establish native tree and shrub species to provide food, corridors and/or shelter using species and methods appropriate to the county. Owners should attempt to restore important forested habitats including bottomland hardwoods, longleaf pine, bogs, mixed pine/hardwood areas and upland hardwoods. Owners also should avoid breaking up large forested habitats for some wildlife species.

Riparian management and improvement focuses on annually and/or seasonally protecting the vegetation and soils in riparian areas (low areas on either side of stream courses). Riparian management and improvements can include: providing livestock alternate watering sites; deferring livestock grazing in pastures with riparian areas during critical periods; excluding livestock from pastures with riparian areas; and fencing to exclude or provide short duration livestock grazing.

Property owners should attempt to restore important forested habitats including bottomland hardwoods, bogs, mixed pine/hardwood areas and turkey roost sites and avoid breaking up large forested habitats in riparian areas.

Wetland improvements provide seasonal or permanent water for roosting, feeding or nesting for wetland wildlife. This practice involves creating, restoring or managing shallow wetlands, greentree reservoirs, playa lakes and other moist soil sites.

Habitat protection for species of concern refers to managing land to provide habitat for an endangered, threatened or rare species. Habitat protection includes managing, or developing additional areas for protecting nesting sites, feeding areas and other critical habitat limiting factors. This protection can be provided by fencing off critical areas, by managing vegetation for a particular species, by maintaining firebreaks to ensure critical overstory vegetation and by annually monitoring the species of concern. Any broad-scale habitat management for migrating, wintering, breeding neotropical birds (primarily songbirds) should follow the specific guidelines provided in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s management plans for each ecological region. Contact the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department or follow specifically approved management guidelines before practicing activities designed to protect endangered species.

Managing native, exotic and feral species involves controlling the grazing and the browsing pressure from native and non-native wildlife, particularly white-tailed deer and exotic ungulates, such as axis deer. This practice is designed to prevent overuse of desirable plant species and to improve the habitat and plant diversity for native animals.

To ensure that an owner’s objectives are met and that the animals are not exceeding the habitat’s carrying capacity, owners should monitor harvesting of animals and vegetation use over time. Owners also may control other exotic and feral animals to improve the habitat and reduce the negative effect on native wildlife. (Feral animals are previously domesticated animals that have become wild.)

In addition, owners should selectively remove or control exotic vegetation affecting native habitats and wildlife over a period of time (for example, large stands of naturalized salt cedar, Chinese tallow, weeping lovegrass, etc.). Owners also should convert tame pasture grasses (such as large areas of coastal bermuda) to native vegetation.

Wildlife restoration simply means 1) restoring and improving a habitat to good condition for targeted species and 2) reintroducing and managing a TPWD-approved native species within a habitat’s carrying capacity as part of a TPWD-approved restoration area.

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