At first mention, wildlife management might seem like an impossibility, on one hand, and a no-brainer on the other hand. How can wildlife possibly be “managed” when there is no direct control over the actions and locations of most wildlife? The easiest thing to do would seem to be to do nothing. However, after thought and investigation into recommended practices, it is evident that land can be managed for wildlife, and that the wildlife on that land can be controlled to a degree by the establishment of natural habitats. The overall goal at Immergrun is to return the property to a healthy natural state providing food, water, and cover for native wildlife species. Additionally, improvements such as erosion control and elimination of invasive plant species further enhance the area for wildlife.
In the first year under Immergrun management, the land was not mowed, and the grassy areas were allowed to produce the existing vegetation to maturity. Musk and Texas thistles were hand-sprayed in the spring with a broad-leaf weed killer. Thistle is a pollinator and so has its place in the nature of things. The plant itself has beautiful seed head but, upon closer inspection, it looks positively wicked! Left to its own it can take over large areas. The previous practice of simply mowing off mesquite shoots has been discontinued. Mesquite will come back from the roots when mowed off, not just with a single stem to replace the old one, but with multiple stems. As it has been put, “Mowing mesquite just makes it angry!” Sendero has been used as the herbicide of choice for mesquite, with a 99% “first spray” success rate when hand-sprayed. It kills only the mesquite without damaging surrounding grasses and other plan life. The favored method in the past was to spray a mixture of diesel and herbicide. This type of treatment was fairly successful after multiple applications but the side effect was that all surrounding vegetation was killed and the ground remained unable to sustain new growth for years. Both thistle and mesquite control will be continuing efforts for several years to come.
The return to a more natural state during the first year has provided observations of more types and quantities of wildlife. Up to twelve white-tailed deer have been observed in a single group; wild turkeys have been both seen and heard; a skunk was observed from a safe distance; two Axxis deer have browsed along the tree line; small reptiles including a garter snake and lizards frequent the low grass areas; the harvester ant mounds have doubled in quantity, providing food for both reptiles and birds. Harvester ants are a food source for the Texas Horned Lizard, the official reptile of the State of Texas. The “horny toad”, as it is also known, is on the protected list as a threatened species by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Grey fox can oftentimes be seen at dusk; several species of butterflies, including Monarchs, are attracted to the plant diversity in the shady areas; and bird feeders have been installed to attract song birds and hummingbirds. Bird sightings include wrens, sparrows, pigeons, cardinals, vermillion flycatchers, dove, and painted buntings. Numerous calls of unseen birds can be heard in the early morning and evening hours, including the Golden-cheeked Warbler.
Future improvements to the wildlife habitat will include deepening and then sealing the pond with clay so that it will hold water year-round thereby providing a ground water source for small animals and birds. The existing watering trough and lower trough added last spring currently serve as the only water sources available for all wildlife. Milkweed will be planted near the pond to encourage bees and more Monarch butterflies to visit. Upon eradication of the thistles and mesquite in the grassy areas, a native bunchgrass mix, including Sideoats Grama, Indiangrass, and Little Bluestem will be planted. Erosion control will be accomplished by the installation of rock trincheras and brush dams in the hillside gullies. Application is being made through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to the Landowner Incentive Program for assistance with erosion control on the eastern slope of the land. The canopy of the Golden-cheeked Warbler area has been thinned and raised in appropriate areas. Further trimming will be done in January 2017.
As the slash juniper (small cedar) is removed, it will not be burned, but has been used for basal stacking for protection of mature trees, and also to create brush mottes that provide cover, nesting, and concealment for small mammals. The excess cedar will be mulched and spread in a thin layer on the ground. Oak trees will be pruned only from December to January in order to reduce the risk of oak wilt. Prompt dressing of any branch removal is required to prevent the possible transmission of oak wilt spores to healthy trees. Dead branches and any rubbing branches will be removed to promote continued good health in the old growth oak trees.
It has been said that in order to understand the land, you must spend some time with it. The first year at Immergrun has certainly been a demonstration that the land has a great amount of resiliency. With a little encouragement and help, it flourishes! The natural progression of the grassy areas from mostly only forbs to a mix of “weeds” forbs and grasses has been amazing to watch. The reappearance of wildlife is reassurance that cooperation with nature is necessary and fundamental for the health of the land and mankind.