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Conservation Corner

Whitetail deer habitat basics:

Thu, January 27, 2011

Whitetail deer are so plentiful these days in most parts of the country, it’s surprising to some people that they were decimated to the point of near-extinction by unrestricted hunting at the turn of the century.

Whitetails are found all over the North American continent, with populations in the millions. They survive in the big woods of northern Maine to the deep saw grass and hammock swamps of Florida. They thrive in mixed farmlands, brushy areas and timber, and can survive the desolate cactus and thorn brush deserts of southern Texas and Mexico.

Most people love to spot whitetail deer, but overpopulations, especially near urbanizing areas, can cause problems. Whitetail deer can be destructive to crops, fruit trees, ornamental plants and gardens. They can also cause serious damage to forest vegetation from over browsing, and are a danger to motorists as they are commonly hit by autos.

Food preferences:

Deer eat a variety of plants, but in farmland areas, cultivated crops, including corn and soybeans, top the list. A major portion of the diet in the fall is waste grain after harvest. The most critical food need to deer is the fall and winter food supply, because they determine the reproductive success of the doe. In summer months, woody browse such as buck brush, sumac, and oak is part of the diet. Various forbs and grasses are also part of the diet in the spring and summer. Fawns slowly shift from their mother’s milk to forbs and grasses as the summer continues.

Cover needs.

Ideal whitetail habitat contains dense thickets for cover, and edges of timber and grass or crop for food. Areas with the largest amount of timber have the highest deer populations. Cold and heavy snow in northern regions cause deer to concentrate in protected areas such as heavy timber, conifer stands, brush, and shrub swamps. 

During the summer, deer can be found wherever food, water cover and solitude exist. In May and June, does seek seclusion for fawning in brushy fields, heavily vegetated stream bottomlands, forest edges, pastures, and grasslands.  They will heavily utilize prairie grass fields instead of timber if it is available.  We are always thinking of prairie grasses for quail and pheasants when we do planning but deer will also utilize it heavily.
Some guys get frustrated because they used to be able to see a lot of deer in the timber during hunting season.  However after a neighbor plants large amounts of prairie grasses, the deer will migrate to that and not use the timber as much.  The deer can sit down in the prairie and allow hunters to walk past them on a deer drive and then they will get up and sneak away from the hunters.

Green browse food plots of clovers and alfalfa, and diverse native grass and forb mixtures offer good fawning habitat.  The green browse food plots provide great protein for the bucks’ antlers. 

For more information, visit the NRCS website at or visit the NRCS Wildlife Habitat Management Institute at

Did you know….?

A female deer usually has one fawn as her first born, but in subsequent years usually has twins. Whitetail deer are good swimmers and often enter rivers and lakes to escape predators.



Forest Landowners eligible for CSP program

Sun, January 09, 2011

NRCS leaders hope new guidelines will attract more forest landowners to program

When Slade Lail purchased 360 acres of land in Hancock County, Ga., two hours outside of Atlanta, all he had in mind for the property were the recreational uses he and his family might take advantage of. He didn’t give working the land much thought.

But in time the dentist decided to build a Forest Stewardship Plan and soon after discovered the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). That was five years ago. Today, Lail is part of a new wave of CSP landowners – those who re-enrolled under the new rules and payment system created through the 2008 Farm Bill – and he couldn’t be happier to be part of it.

CSP addresses seven resource concerns (soil quality, soil erosion, water quality, water quantity, air quality, plant resources, and animal resources) as well as energy. The program encourages the adoption of conservation activities addressing climate change. Eligible land includes cropland, pastureland, rangeland, and nonindustrial forestland.

Under the new program, Lail was asked to complete a resource inventory of all the forestry and wildlife activities, or enhancements, that he currently addresses on his property. He was also asked to select new activities he is willing to adopt. Available conservation activities include but are not limited to: prescribed burning, proper forest thinning, wildlife opening maintenance, woods roads maintenance, riparian preservation, maintaining wildlife hardwood tree plantings, controlling invasive species, maintaining aquatic wetland habitat for biodiversity, and special site mountain longleaf demonstration plantings. CSP also allows prospective candidates to choose an enhancement bundle which is a group of specific enhancements that when installed as a group, addresses resource concerns as a whole.

The program can also help provide landowners with technical assistance and offers a schedule for all of their enhancement work. “It’s helped give me guidance, that’s the biggest thing,” says Lail.

CSP now requires all landowners to meet one resource concern at the time of enrollment. In addition, under CSP’s new guidelines, landowners need to meet or agree to meet a second resource concern by the end of the five-year contract. Lail plans to introduce more native vegetation to his land in the coming years.

NRCS is making a push to reach out to more forest landowners like Lail. Forestry has a bigger place in CSP than ever before, and NRCS is able to award contracts to 10 percent of the 12.7 million acres enrolled annually to nonindustrial private forest landowners. After two signup periods NRCS was close to reaching that total; the deadline for submitting applications to be considered in the third ranking and evaluation period (FY2011) is January 21, 2011.

“We definitely want to work with forest landowners. We realize it is an important part of our ecosystem,” says Irma Hernandez, CSP program specialist for NRCS. But Hernandez admits, “They are not our traditional customers, so we really need the help of our partners to inform forest landowners that CSP is there for them to use, too.”

This is where conservation districts enter the picture. Hernandez views districts as an important ally in helping to spread the word. In the old program, CSP was available in all 50 states but enrollment was determined on a watershed basis. The new program is available in all 50 states, as well, but it offers a continuous sign up with announced ranking periods. Forestland was not an eligible land use in the old program but it is under the new program. The new program offers more enhancements for forestry and ranks forestry applications in a separate pool from other land uses. But much of this information has yet to be relayed to the potential applicants.

“Conservation Districts are strong partners that can help NRCS promote and deliver the program,” says Hernandez. “They can assist our field employees and potential applicants on promoting and conducting outreach to ensure that forest landowners are aware of the opportunities available to them. The program offers financial and technical assistance to help them address resource concerns on their land.”

CSP is no longer a traditional cost-share program, but Hernandez sells this as one of its many positive points. Those enrolled will now be compensated based on conservation performance, generated both by the relative environmental benefits from conservation activities the landowner is already engaged in and the new conservation activities that they are willing to adopt during the contract period. And landowners will be ranked higher if they are addressing resource concerns identified by their respective state as being a resource concern of importance.

Says Hernandez, “CSP provides opportunities to both recognize excellent stewards and deliver valuable new conservation – that’s kind of become our slogan.”

When forestry landowners and producers first apply, they are asked to complete a self-screening checklist to determine if CSP is the right program for them. In addition, potential applicants can review the list of enhancements available through the program and the resource inventory questions which are available on the NRCS home page at Each .application is then evaluated and ranked by a conservation measurement tool NRCS uses to determine eligibility, ranking score, and annual payments. A list of new enhancements and bundles is expected to be released by NRCS in early December.

Lail appreciates that CSP recognizes him for being an active steward. And the payments allow for more opportunities to share time with his children on his property. “This has been a tremendous learning tool for them and their friends,” says Lail, who invited a local boy scout troop to witness a prescribed burn. “And that’s added motivation for me to continue to do these things on my property.”

For more information on the Conservation Stewardship Program, visit

Adapted from NACD Forestry Notes December 2010 Volume XX Issue 1


Restoring the Floodplain

Wed, January 05, 2011

Water treatment plants, libraries, road construction – that’s what most people think of when they hear about Recovery Act projects. However in Illinois, America’s Recovery and Reinvestment Act goes even further. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) is restoring historical floodplains – with big benefits. According to Illinois NRCS State Conservationist Bill Gradle, “The funds used for Illinois recovery projects reduce damage caused by floodwaters—they fix problems before they happen again, which is good for us economically and environmentally.”

USDA-NRCS received Recovery Act funding to purchase easements from landowners who made the decision to take cropland out of production in flood prone areas. In most cases, the land can only grow a successful crop in 1 out of 5 years. According to Dave Hiatt, NRCS Wildlife Biologist, “In the past few years Illinois has experienced unusually wet conditions making this a prime opportunity to restore that land to its original function – storing flood waters.”

NRCS purchased the easements on more than 1,600 acres in nine counties throughout Illinois from private landowners and a county forest preserve district located close to suburban Chicago. All easements are located along streams and rivers that flow into the Illinois, the Mississippi, and the Ohio River Watershed Basins. The total cost for easements and restoration work is estimated at more than $5 million.

“Three easements located along the Wabash River join together with existing wetland restoration projects and will create five miles of restored floodplains,” adds Hiatt. Another project site is located with a contiguous natural area of 453 acres in the Embarras River floodplain. One particular project includes a substantial wetland restoration of historic Otter Pond in Lawrence County.

Once established, these contiguous wetlands will offer significant benefits for wildlife, provide flood prevention downstream, and protect water quality. In addition to flood control, floodplains provide wildlife habitats and create recreational areas. “From a tax dollar perspective,” said Hiatt, “floodplain restoration reduces crop disaster payments and saves recurring expenses of repairing levees and dredging steams.” That could save millions of dollars.

According to NRCS, ecosystem benefits are just as important. Once restored, these sites will provide high quality habitat for many species of wildlife and plants, such as migratory birds, waterfowl and shorebirds, and other wetland-dependent wildlife species.

Restoring a floodplain is not a quick process. It requires a plan for restoration work and time for new management and practices to influence that land.

All 11 Illinois projects were planned, designed, and built on schedule and were completed by the end of 2010. Each project had specific earthwork and site requirements, such as removal of a levee section, construction of small wetlands within the floodplain, and seeding of native grasses or planting trees.

USDA-NRCS offers the Wetland Reserve Program, or WRP, year round. The WRP is a voluntary program which offers landowners an opportunity to establish long-term conservation and wildlife practices and protection. Landowners who were not accepted into the Recovery Act projects may qualify for NRCS’ regular WRP. Contact the local USDA Service Center and visit with USDA-NRCS or Soil and Water Conservation District staff. Visit to learn more.



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