In the more arid regions of the Midwest, water matters, in more ways than one.
“A lot of work that we do focuses on riparian areas, those riversides and creek bottoms that are so important to wild turkeys and other wildlife,” said Jared McJunkin, NWTF conservation field supervisor. “They’re important as a water source, but they’re also very important as a habitat type. In a lot of areas, especially the farther West you go, those might be the only areas with suitable roosting habitat.”
The NWTF has a number of projects underway that will improve riparian habitat as well as improve habitat diversity.
In Kansas, a project at the Cedar Bluff Wildlife Area will help habitat on more than 340 acres.
“A lot of work there is focused on removing invasive plant species, such as Russian olives and easterner red cedar,” McJunkin said. “We want to clear those out and allow the more desirable native species to take hold.”
The invasive trees and shrubs are removed using chemical treatments and prescribed fire.
In Nebraska, about 187 acres underwent similar restoration along sand Creek on USDA Forest service property. This project was a joint effort involving the NWTF, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Forest Service.
“This was another project where we used chemical and mechanical methods to remove Russian olives,” said McJunkin. “Once we eliminate those less desirable species, we’re able to open up the forest floor, creating better brood habitat and easier access to roost sites.”
Another interesting project in Kansas is one that doesn’t deal directly with riparian habitat, but is an effort that could have big impacts on how future timber stand improvement efforts are conducted, including those in riparian areas.
“A project in cooperation with Kansas State Univeristy involved oak regeneration,” McJunkin said. “We treated 46 acres of oak woodlands owned by the university, and we were unable to experiment with several treatment methods—something we don’t get to do often.”
The experimentation may lead to more effective methods of removing undesirable tree and shrub species in areas where native species are being choked out.
An additional benefit of the work, McJunkin said, is the University agreed to open that property to a mentored youth turkey hunt this spring. Previously, the land was completely closed to hunting.