Action – a simple word and one that so many know, but so few take to heart. A “little less talk and a lot more action” as an infamous country song states so emphatically is what many circumstances need. In his book “We Are Soldiers Still” General Hal Moore wrote in his chapter on leadership that every day you need to answer two basic questions: 1) What am I not doing that I should be doing to influence the situation in my favor, and 2) What am I doing that I should not be doing? General Moore was a famous leader of soldiers in Korea and Vietnam, most noted for his book “We Were Soldiers Once and Young.”
In a much less dramatic context, I use the word A.C.T.I.O.N. as an acronym for how landowners should approach their wildlife management projects.
“A” is for ASSESS
You — and that means you landowner — need to have an aerial photo, or access to aerial imagery that allows you to see your land from the “helicopter’s” perspective. And not just your land, but how your land fits into the landscape around it. It should be as up to date as possible and with today’s technology it is not hard to find an image no more than a year old.
Assess also represents assessing your goals – what do you want out of the management? With regard to quail, do you want a few coveys to see from time to time or hunt occasionally? Do want enough quail to hunt routinely? Or would you be happy just having one resident covey of quail? These questions will have a bearing on your actions. In some cases your goals may be unrealistic based on the land you have. In those situations – maybe you can manage for another species.
“C” is for CONSULT
To further your assessment, bring in the professionals. Consult with your private lands wildlife biologist, your forester, your Natural Resources Conservation Service specialist and others if necessary. The more you prepare before their visit and the more you know about your goals, the more you will get out of their visit.
In some cases I have shown up to a property, asked the landowner about their goals and the reply was “We just want to do something for wildlife.” I have grown better over the years at asking subsequent questions to help the landowners determine their goals. But the bottom-line is you need to think ahead about what you want from the property. There is nothing at all wrong with buying a piece of property and simply walking through and enjoying it … and not managing anything on it but your time. This won’t get you any quail, though. If you want quail and their species associates, some actions will be required.
“T” is for TACTICS
How will you produce the desired habitats to bring onto your land the types of animals you’d like to see more of? How will you maintain those habitats? What tactics, otherwise called management techniques, will you use, when will you use them, and how will you make them happen to produce your desired outcome?
Your consults with professionals and personal research should lead you to the answers. This is a big part of the job for our private lands wildlife biologists, and for our district wildlife biologists in some cases. Tactics begin with some broad brush, general situations that occur throughout much of Virginia, such as how to convert fescue to better wildlife habitat, how to properly manage pine or hardwood timber for certain wildlife species. From here things become more specifically tailored to your property.
Once this general overview and basic outline for managing your property is determined, this is where an agency biologist, or a private contractor if you prefer that option, can prepare a long-term wildlife management plan for you. It is important to note that it is impossible to get every detail into a written management plan. Much of the future management and maintenance of habitats depends on conditions that change, weather patterns, etc., so don’t try to plan every detail. Base your future management on the “O” in our acronym.
“I” is for INITIATIVE
Short and sweet – Without initiative none of the above will happen. The laws of physics apply – things at rest tend to stay at rest. Same with people. Get off the couch, put the laptop down and get outside. And what about taking the kids with you? I have said before and at the risk of being repetitive – the government folks like me can help, advise, recommend, teach, help develop favorable policies, and encourage, but there are too few of us to show up and get it done for you.
“O” is for OBSERVE
Observe your management efforts. Evaluate the results. Re-assess every year, and modify management as needed to continue to keep the habitats you want. Don’t hesitate to bring the professionals back in to help observe and re-assess. I personally prefer relatively general management plans that require landowners to be engaged and to actually learn how to assess and modify management based on existing and expected conditions. The old adage about giving a man a fish versus teaching him how to fish applies. This leads us to our last and maybe most important letter.
“N” is for NEVER (as in NEVER giving up)
The first thing a landowner has to do is learn to love the management. If the work becomes something you enjoy and look forward to, you’ll continue to do what is necessary. But if the work required is something you loath…chances are you will not be able to keep the management up.
In my Army days the training sergeants and later our platoon sergeants had a saying “You have to love the training men; you have to make friends with it.” I also recognize that not every landowner is in the physical condition to do the work on their own. In this case, private contractors can be used to help continue the work. In many cases, cost-share programs help pay for these efforts.
Like any other worthwhile goals in life, wildlife management goals need long term commitments of time, funds and energy. But it can and should be fun!
February 5, 2014