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Funded Projects

Conservation Practices to Promote Quality Early Successional Wildlife Habitat

Quality early successional habitat is a limiting factor for northern bobwhites. USDA-NRCS has promoted conservation programs to address this problem. In the Central Hardwoods, Piedmont, Southeastern Coastal Plain, and Appalachian Mountains Bird Conservation Regions, converting tall fescue acreage to native warm-season grasses (NWSG) is a key objective. Unfortunately, a majority of landowners enrolled in USDA conservation programs have not managed fields of NWSG after establishment, but allowed them to grow dense and rank, often succumbing to woody succession. Further, landowners are reluctant to use fire and instead bush-hog NWSG stands, creating less than desirable conditions for brooding and feeding. Information identifying the best alternative practices to burning is critically needed to encourage active management by landowners.

In many areas, planting NWSG is not necessary to obtain quality habitat. After removing tall fescue cover, a diverse seedbank often produces an abundance of native grasses and forbs that provide quality habitat. There are questions, however, about how best to remove non-native cover and stimulate the seedbank for desirable plant composition and structure.

NRCS Private Lands Biologists and TWRA wildlife biologists working with landowners enrolled in USDA programs identified the need for this project. This project began in 2003 when fields across Tennessee were selected for treatment. Dormant-season and growing-season fire, seasonal discing, bush-hogging, and strip-herbicide applications are being implemented on NWSG fields. Seasonal spraying and discing treatments are being implemented on tall fescue sites. Various herbicide and burning treatments are being conducted on sites overtaken by woody succession. Comprehensive vegetation sampling will identify treatment effect on vegetation composition and structure. In addition, the impact of treatments on invertebrate abundance and mass, seed rain, and soil loss will be measured.

Craig A. Harper
Department of Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries
University of Tennessee-Knoxville
Knoxville, TN 37996

Phone: (865) 974-7346
Email: charper@utk.edu

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