Managing a property for wildlife potential and optimum habitat has countless considerations. You need to consider wildlife nutrition, water sources and cover potential as you lay out a plan. Another important detail is what’s occurring on the neighbor’s property, especially if you don’t have the bankroll to purchase a sprawling farm or ranch.
Neighboring farming practices, livestock grazing, hunting pressure and overall wildlife management can influence how wildlife use your property. Adjacent property used purely for agriculture can increase wildlife usage on your side of the fence, whereas one managed as a Garden of Eden could siphon wildlife across the border.
Donnie Buckland, NWTF grasslands and agricultural manager, understands the influences neighboring properties can have on your land-management practices. Buckland has spent the last eight years with NWTF, with prior biologist positions at both Quail Unlimited and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
“Management practices along property boundaries can, at times, attract wildlife from neighbor properties, hold wildlife on your property or enhance and complement practices your neighbor already has in progress,” says Buckland.
With both positive and negative scenarios on the table, Buckland advises land managers to assess activity on neighboring properties. You can often get a feel for land practices simply by driving around a property and surveying activities from rights of way. You also can use modern conveniences, such as Google Earth or even hunting apps that incorporate Google Earth. Look down from above to view openings, water sources, timber acres and agricultural fields hidden from public roads.
“It’s always important to know the habitat and cover types that surround your property,” Buckland said. “One method to learn that without trespassing is to use aerial photography. With advances in online technology and mapping, it’s relatively easy to get a good assessment of your neighbor’s property. You can determine field sizes, configurations, diversity of cover types and, in many cases, determine potential travel lanes, bedding areas, roosting sites and so on.”
Having neighbors is unavoidable, whether you own 80 acres or 80,000 acres. Reach out to them and forge relationships, especially as it pertains to management.
“With so many absentee landowners and city folks moving to the country, it’s sometimes difficult to know your neighbor’s attitudes and experience with wildlife and, especially, hunting,” Buckland said. “If you’ve been neighbors for a long time, you probably have already learned their values and attitudes. If you are a new neighbor, or vice versa, then it’s always important to try to establish a good relationship.”
Buckland advises easing in to hunting and wildlife topics when first meeting neighbors. He suggests beginning the conversation with common subjects and transitioning to wildlife.
“Usually you can learn about their attitudes pretty quickly from their responses,” he said. “Just be prepared for some opinions different from your own, and it is OK if they happen to be nonhunters. In those cases, you just hope to convince them by your actions and conversations that hunters also should be respected.”
The goal is to make friends and have compatible thoughts on land management for wildlife. Even if you can’t connect on that level, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to do to maximize your property for a wildlife haven.