Historically farmers were wildlife’s best friend – small farms created large amounts of edge and, often when left, waste grain in the fields benefitted wildlife in winter. Unfortunately, farming today employs many practices that are not beneficial to wildlife.
Clean-Farming, or the small farm, with its many fields, fence rows, and ditches (all sources of edge) has been replaced in many areas with farms having huge open fields that form agriculture monocultures – big fields of only one type of crop (e.g., thousands of acres of soybeans or corn). Clean-farming and the loss of habitat associated with it has really hurt some animal populations (e.g., ring-necked pheasants).
Increased Mechanization: Research in Ohio has shown that bigger, faster, more efficient machinery (mowing machinery) increased pheasant mortality by 60%. Night-time mowing increased mortality five-fold over daytime mowing.
Soil erosion and sedimentation: poor farming practices result in too much soil getting into streams and lakes.
Chemicals and Pesticides: the use of chemicals has increased rapidly in all types of farming – and the improper use of these chemicals has caused problems for both wildlife and people.
- Pesticides (insecticides, rodenticides, and herbicides) are all highly mobile, meaning they can quickly move through the ecosystem. Once in an ecosystem, pesticides become increasingly more concentrated in each successive link of the food chain. This is called Biological Magnification. This increase results from the fact that each organism in the food chain takes in more of a pesticide in its food than it excretes as waste! (Think of it in the same way that Mercury levels increase in fish the higher in the food chain you go)
Its important to realize that wildlife can also cause damage, and the loss of farm crops to wildlife is referred to as crop depredation. For example, the feeding and trampling of grain by Canada Geese in Canada destroys an average of $12-15 million/year. Blackbirds here in the US destroy about 16% of the annual corn crop. Wildlife-caused losses in the US usually equal around $590 million dollars per year.
Management Tactics Used to Prevent Crop Depredation
- Scare Tactics: Propane cannon, high-tech scarecrow, etc. (scare them away)
- “Lure crops” or Bait stations (feed them something else)
- Aversion Conditioning: Food makes animal sick (non-lethal of course)
- Repellents: Drive animal away (e.g., deer) (can be scent chemicals, etc)
Changes in farming practices that can help wildlife are also beneficial, some examples are:
- No-Till Farming: Planting this years crop in plant remains of last years crop – major concern is the need to use a lot of herbicides
- Warm & Cool Season Grasses: Within native grass communities, there are two general groups of grasses: warm season and cool season.
- Warm season grasses are adapted to grow in open, dry, and warm habitats because they are more efficient at conserving water. E.g., Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indiangrass, Switchgrass, and Sideoats Gramma
- Cool season grasses are adapted to cool, moist, and shaded habitats. E.g., Orchard Grass, types of Fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass, Timothy, and Needlegrass.
- Native warm season grasses start growing when temperatures reach about 55°F; while cool season grasses begin growing when temperatures climb about 32°F. This means that 60-70% of warm season grass growth occurs after June 1st, while 60-70% of cool season grass growth occurs before June 1st.
Its important to keep these points in mind. Even if you have a large area to manage, chances are its surrounded by farmland. How these lands can affect your area and your animals is something to keep in mind – especially how they can do it indirectly! (pesticides in waterways flowing into your area, etc). Next time we’ll continue with our “Wildlife &” topics with Wildlife & Range Management!