Taking Cover Seriously

When biologists talk about cover, they are referring to more than just a place for animals to hide.

“Cover is three-dimensional and related to the functional needs of animals,” said Collin Smith, NWTF regional biologist for Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota. Cover provides shelter in adverse weather conditions; allows for breeding, nesting and rearing young; and provides an obstruction between an animal and a possible predator.

Those of us who hunt have witnessed the effects of good cover and its benefits. Cover is an integral part of any wildlife enhancement program. The NWTF is working on two new projects in South Dakota and Wyoming that will help to enhance wildlife cover.

Located near Sturgis, South Dakota, one 153-acre project involves commercial thinning on the Fort Meade Recreation Area. The goal is to create a “multi-structured, uneven-aged stand of Ponderosa pines that will be more resistant to fire and bug infestations.” The NWTF partnered with the Bureau of Land Management for this project. Since it is a stewardship project, the contractor will sell timber, and the funds will be returned to the project and applied to wildlife enhancement activities.

The main benefit to wild turkeys comes from removing Ponderosa pine that has encroached into bur oak stands in the area. A light-intensity prescribed burn will be applied to the oak stands after the pine is removed. This action will assist in generating new oak trees. All these activities will diversify the cover types present on the landscape.

In Wyoming the NWTF is partnering with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and many other organizations on a larger project that directly affects 581 acres in the upper Stockade Beaver Creek area.

The project began this winter and reduces juniper growth. The project will increase forage and reduce fuel loads in an area that is a wintering place for wild turkeys. The grass and shrubs stimulated by introducing sunlight to the ground, where thick juniper once existed, will provide two additional layers of wildlife cover.

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South Dakota