CRP, grassland conservation and early successional habitat and pheasants all go together, but they also go with a lot of other wildlife.
The Conservation Reserve Program is a voluntary program in which a farmer receives an annual rental payment and cost-share assistance to establish certain types of vegetative cover on eligible environmentally sensitive or highly erodible farmland for a period of 10 to 15 years. The federal Farm Service Agency administers it.
The purpose of the program is to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality and provide wildlife habitat through high-quality plantings of native habitat. Initially, the program was also established to reduce price-depressing commodity surpluses.
“Conservation partners in Nebraska such as the USDA, Pheasants and Quail Forever, and the Game and Parks Commission work together to make every CRP acre the best that it can be for a wide variety of wildlife,” said Eric Zach, Game and Parks’ agricultural program manager.
The CRP, which was renewed recently with some changes in the new farm bill, is the most successful wildlife conservation program in our history. It benefits pheasants, deer, rabbits, waterfowl, quail, turkeys, grouse and nongame wildlife species such as grassland birds. It provides vital linkages between large blocks of native prairie essential for populations of nongame grassland birds. Various songbirds have been documented nesting in CRP acres as well.
Deer are often considered a forest species; however, Nebraska’s whitetails and mule deer do best in landscapes with a mix of habitat. Deer like to utilize the early successional vegetation and native warm-season grasses, legumes and forbs of CRP and other properly managed grasslands throughout the year. These habitats offer critical areas for fawning, bedding, escape cover, food and travel. The grasses, legumes and forbs of early successional habitat and grasslands supply excellent food sources for deer.
In addition, CRP and effective grassland management creates outstanding edge habitat, which is needed by deer. The linear edges of CRP tracts are used as travel corridors. These corridors connect larger patches of suitable habitat within a landscape dominated by fields of row crops. Deer are more likely to move through these corridors or pathways than across open, harvested crop fields, making them ideal for placement of a hunting stand or blind.
In fact, thousands of acres of CRP are enrolled in the Open Fields and Waters walk-in hunting access program. “It’s not just bird hunters using the CRP acres enrolled in OFW, deer hunters take advantage of them as well, and have great success,” Zach said.
Early successional growth refers to the regeneration of plant life after a disturbance, whether natural or human-induced. Change begins with this disturbance to the existing plant community, followed by colonization or regrowth.
Early successional habitats typically have an open understory with scattered, vigorously growing plants that create an umbrella-like canopy. For an array of wildlife species, the widely spaced stems allow easy mobility, while the tops of the plants interlace to provide shade and overhead concealment.
Many groups of wildlife, such as mammals, invertebrates and monarch butterflies, are dependent on specific forage plants, including milkweed, that are found in early successional plants.