Common Misperceptions Regarding Land and Wildlife Management in Central Texas

  • April 21, 2014
  • News

The statements below in Bold are common misperceptions followed by a brief explanation of clarification.

Mesquite is not native to Texas; it invaded from Mexico.
Mesquite is a native tree and has been here for thousands of years. The density of mesquite has increased on many areas for a variety of reasons.

Cedar (juniper) is not native to Texas; it is an invader.
Ashe juniper (cedar) is native to the region and was present in very large amounts in the eastern and southern Edwards Plateau prior to European settlement. Large and vast cedar forests and woodlands were always present on the steeper hills and in canyons. Heavy grazing and the lack of fires have allowed cedar to multiply and spread beyond its former natural habitat. Red-berry juniper is another native species of cedar that grows west and north of the Hill Country.

Cedar, mesquite and prickly pear are undesirable brush species and should be controlled.
Cedar, mesquite and prickly pear are all natural components of our native vegetation. They are desirable for wildlife in various amounts. If they become too thick, they can become a problem. Selective and careful management of these species is sometimes needed and desirable.

Brush control is needed to help restore water supplies in creeks, lakes and aquifers.
Scientists say that brush control is not the answer to our water problems. In most cases, brush control will not substantially increase the offsite supply of water. In some cases, the control of juniper on fractured limestone areas may improve spring flow and aquifer recharge although any improvement is often temporary. In other cases, there is no effect. The proper management of water catchments through good land stewardship and conservative grazing management is the best way to restore healthy hydrologic conditions.

The recommended stocking rate for Central Texas ranches is about 20 to 25 acres per cow.
Long term grazing at such fixed rates has caused great deterioration to the vegetation of the region. Some very good condition, well-managed rangeland will safely support a cow per 20 acres or even more, but this is the exception. Proper stocking rates should be determined by a careful assessment of the existing vegetation by a trained individual. Conservative, flexible and light stocking rates are needed in most cases to help restore the health of the land. On most central Texas ranches, 20 to 25 acres per cow will result in substantial overgrazing.

Grazing is ecologically necessary in order to maintain healthy land.
For land that has been heavily grazed in the past and is in poor condition, the removal of livestock for 2 to 5 years is often recommended to hasten recovery. At that time, a decision can be made whether or not some controlled rotational grazing may be appropriate or beneficial. In most cases, land does not necessarily have to be grazed in order to maintain good healthy vegetation.

Land should not be grazed, since livestock cause overgrazing.
Cattle, sheep or goats don’t cause overgrazing; people cause overgrazing. Grazing done the right way can be very compatible with good stewardship of the land. Grazing can also be done in a manner to maintain or improve wildlife habitat. Grazing is inherently neither good nor bad. It depends on how it is done that determines if it is good or bad.

Goats can be effectively used to control cedar.
If goats are stocked in high numbers, they will often get hungry enough to browse large amounts of cedar, especially in winter. Goats may browse young cedar plants severely enough to kill them. The problem with this practice is that cedar is very low on the list of preferred plants, and goats will generally over-browse the other desirable shrubs before they begin to control cedar. The damage that this causes to rangeland and wildlife habitat can be significant.

Quail cannot be over-hunted since there is an 80% turnover in the population each year.
This old misperception was disseminated by wildlife biologists. It has been discovered that heavy hunting can, in fact, hurt next year’s quail population. A good carryover of birds from the fall and winter until the spring nesting season is important to good quail populations. In general, hunters should not remove more than about 1/4 to 1/3 of the birds in each covey in good years. In poor years, no hunting at all may be advisable.

Large numbers of raccoons, skunks, and hogs are the reason why we don’t have quail.
These predators do destroy quail nests, but they are not the primary reason for low quail numbers. Good habitat, especially adequate nest cover will buffer the damage that nest predators cause. Large clumps of grass, the size of a basketball, spaced about every 10 feet are needed for good protective nest cover.

Coyotes cause great harm to wildlife populations and should be controlled.
Coyotes kill and eat fawns and some adult deer. They also destroy quail and turkey nests and eat many other kinds of wild animals. However, predation is a natural and necessary part of the natural balance. Some of the best wildlife populations in the state exist where there are high coyote numbers. Coyotes may actually do more good than harm when it comes to wildlife. For those who raise livestock, especially sheep or goats, coyotes can be a serious problem and control is often warranted. Where deer numbers are low and where fawn crops are consistently low, coyote control can help boost the deer population.

Live oak is a preferred deer food.
Deer eat large amounts of live oak leaves; however it is not a high quality or a preferred food. When deer numbers exceed the food supply, they are forced to eat large amounts of low quality browse such as live oak and persimmon. Live oak acorns on the other hand are highly preferred, but acorn production is unreliable and only available for a few months of the year.

Planting food plots is an effective way to improve deer habitat.
Food plots can be used to increase the food supply; however they are risky and costly. A large acreage devoted to food plots would be needed to provide a substantial increase in nutrition (1 acre for every 3 deer). If food plots are done properly, they can be very beneficial. When not done properly, they are of little or no value. Smaller fields can be planted to attract deer, but their contribution to the overall food supply is minimal.

Supplemental feeding of high protein is recommended to improve deer nutrition.
Deer will readily eat large amounts of protein pellets and it will increase antler development, body size and fawn crops. A high consumption of feed can be an indicator of poor habitat and/or an overpopulation of deer. Supplemental feeding is a very costly practice and can actually lead to habitat degradation since it will quickly allow the population to increase beyond the carrying capacity of the habitat. An extremely aggressive annual deer harvest becomes essential if feeding is practiced.

Spike bucks are genetically inferior and should be culled from the deer herd.
Yearling bucks will commonly have either spike or multiple points for their first set of antlers depending on several factors. The second and subsequent sets of antlers will each be progressively larger until about the age of 6 or 7. Some spikes will remain under-developed the remainder of their life while others will develop large antlers. Most bucks that start out as spikes will develop 8 or more points later in life. With good habitat management and good nutrition, most yearling bucks will have 4 or more points, except in drought years. A large number of yearling spikes is indicative of habitat and nutritional problems, not a “genetic problem”. The culling of spikes is not likely to improve the antlers in future generations of bucks. Most biologists and deer managers agree that emphasis should be placed on habitat improvement rather than the culling of spikes. However, there is no consensus among biologists and deer managers on this issue and opinions vary greatly.

Compiled by Steve Nelle, Wildlife Biologist, San Angelo nelleangelo@suddenlink.net