Finding the "right" land management consultant

Creating high-quality wildlife habitat not only requires a wealth of knowledge, it can take hours or days to evaluate the land and draw up a plan. Do you have time for that? If not, look at hiring a consultant.

Professional wildlife and habitat consultants can examine your land and create a management plan that helps turn your land into a wildlife oasis. They not only have the knowledge to develop a plan, they have the experience.

Or do they? These days, habitat consultants are about as common as a coyote in Georgia. Truth is, anyone with a tractor and a business card can call themselves a wildlife or habitat consultant. So how do you sort the pros from the posers, hiring the right person for the job the first time you make a move?

“You can’t beat the recommendation of a friend,” said Donnie Buckland, former NWTF grasslands and agriculture manager. “If you know someone who has used the services of a consultant and they were happy with the results, that’s a good start.”

References are always good, no matter where they come from. Before you hire someone, ask to speak with past clients, particularly those who had the same management goals as you. Be careful, though; few business owners will give you names of customers who were not happy with the outcome. Take references with a dose of skepticism, but don’t hesitate to give them a call.

Credentials can matter, too. Some consultants have forestry or wildlife management degrees from high-caliber universities and an alphabet soup of credentials after their names. Buckland, however, is less interested in various degrees or certifications than boots-on-the-ground experience.

A consultant fresh out of college may know the “why” of habitat management, but might not know the “how.” That takes experience.

“If you plan on doing any prescribed burning, then I do think it is important that the manager you hire has a prescribed fire certification,” Buckland said.

Make sure, also, that the consultant’s experience is relevant to your goals. Planting a hundred food plots can turn an average food plotter into a great food plot manager, but can this person also create high-quality habitat that doesn’t involve bags of seed? If your goal includes such things as creating edges, bedding and nesting cover, and brood-rearing habitat, you need someone who understands how to do more than plant a patch of clover.

“I would also make sure the consultant is a hunter, if one of your goals is to create better hunting opportunities,” Buckland said. “That way, you’ll both be on the same page from the start and can incorporate hunting into the overall plan. “It’s not a bad idea to make sure the business is legitimate, too. In other words, if you hire someone that just does it on the side, you may run into problems if there are any legal issues that need to be resolved. A licensed, insured consultant who is full-time or who makes a large part of his or her living at it is more likely to run the business in a professional manner.”

Experience helps each consultant understand the job and helps build a network of professionals who may play a role in the habitat management work. A good consultant will know the right loggers, the best seed and plant distributors, and the most reliable labor sources for each job.

“I think spending time on the phone or even face-to-face, walking your land is a good way to gauge someone’s ability and knowledge,” Buckland said. “It’s like a lot of things. You can get a good feel for someone by talking to them. In other words, do you like the individual? That matters because you’ll be spending time with this person as he or she works on your land.” —David Hart

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