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Habitat improvement important in spring planning

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January provides hunters and anglers the perfect opportunity to reflect on the past seasons and plan for the future. As the snow piles high in the sloughs and the world seems to sleep under the white blanket of winter, hunters, anglers and other conservationists are busy planning for spring. However, many of those plans extend years beyond the next season of fishing and hunting.

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Habitat improvement is an important concern for those looking to advance the preservation of watchable wildlife and game species alike. Along with the prevention of pollution and water quality improvement, these goals can be accomplished by simple and relatively inexpensive projects that all landowners and sportsmen can take part in.

Get Rooted

Tree planting is a highly-touted and effective tool in assisting wildlife year round. The winter months provide landowners a chance to select appropriate trees for their areas, and give them time to draw up a planting plan after consulting advisors at local Extension and Soil Conservation Offices. What's more, many such offices offer trees in bundles at significant discounts for spring planting efforts.

These resources and special offers combine to give backyard conservationists and sportsmen the opportunity to improve their properties. Trees provide everything many species need for survival. Animals, from songbirds to big game, benefit from trees as rearing habitat, as protection from the elements and in some instances a supplemental food source. Talk to your local extension and soil conservation offices, fellow conservationists, and log on to arborday.org for more information from the National Arbor Day Foundation on tree planting projects. All of these outlets will provide you with desirable species of trees and shrubs for your area, along with where, when and how they should be planted.

In the Buff

Marginal lands and treeclaims such as shelterbelts also provide habitat and rearing grounds for a variety of wildlife species. Pothole sloughs across the northern Midwest are recognized the world over as the engines that drive the duck factory of North America. Preservation of these wetlands and protection of the areas around them leads to better wildlife production year in and year out.

Buffer areas, even those consisting of rearing grass strips just ten to 20-feet wide, provide added habitat and protection from predators for young-of-the-year waterfowl and big game such as whitetail deer. Those engaged in agricultural practices for the past few decades recognize that the cost of attempting to farm these buffer areas is often much greater - in terms of lost crops, wasted farm chemicals and hours expended - than the reward. However, the benefit of protecting such buffer areas along sloughs, tree claims and other marginal lands is an abundance of watchable wildlife and game species to pursue.

Landowners can make plans now to set aside these marginal areas from their farming practices, particularly with the abundance of snow and a predicted wet spring across the region limiting planting-season access to slough areas. Now is the perfect time to put a program in place on your land to see the benefits of buffering these wildlife-preferred areas.

Shore Up

Land habitat isn't the only living space that benefits from a buffer area. Streams, ponds and lakes are also more productive wildlife areas when shoreline cover is preserved. For better fish habitat, agencies such as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources encourage landowners to preserve native vegetation at the shoreline of the lake, by sparing the mower and the weedwhacker during the spring and summer seasons.

Less development along the water's edge prevents runoff, erosion, and diminished water quality and fosters healthier environments for fish, water mammals, birds and insects. This undisturbed border also prevents contaminants, such as fertilizer and herbicide, from lakeshore lawns from running directly into the water body. Ranchers are also encouraged to fence their pastures several yards away from these shoreline zones to prevent overgrazing and siltation due to livestock usage.

A good spring plan would be to address shoreline vegetation on property you own, which will allow native plants to grow to their maximum potential. Hold off on developing the shoreline up to the water's edge in order to protect the health of the water body. Ultimately, fishing and watchable wildlife activities will benefit from it

Plan What You Can

If you don't have the land, the money, or the resources available for these projects, there's always a great spring conservation project that anyone can do. After the snow melts, garbage and litter can often be found on the shores of many lakes and rivers. Use the cold weather days to plan a spring get together with fellow sportsmen, students, scouts and local club members from a variety of organizations to clean up your local lake, pond or river. If there's no water nearby, just arrange a time to clean up city streets and parks, because litter that ends up there eventually finds its way to someplace you care about...in our outdoors.

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