Native brush establishment on rangeland for wildlife

GENE T. MILLER,Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Canyon, Texas

A strategy to improve rangeland for wildlife in selected locations throughout the High Plains and Rolling Plains is native brush establishment through transplanting fourwing saltbush (Atriplex canescens). This native shrub is excellent deer/pronghorn browse, quail cover, attractive to songbirds, very drought hardy, reserve cattle feed (14% protein), and adaptable to a wide range of soil types. A key feature is that during the spring, it is not so palatable that cattle will choose it ahead of grasses when they are growing luxuriantly; rather, cattle will take it later in the growing season. So you benefit wildlife, livestock, and aesthetics. Although it is compatible with grazing systems after establishment, transplanted seedlings should ideally be protected from grazing for at least the first growing season. Dr. Darrell Ueckert, noted saltbush expert with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station at San Angelo (915/653-4576), advises the following establishment technique:

(1)Transplant locally-grown and adapted seedlings from Texas Forest Service in Lubbock (806/746-5801), also available through local Soil & Water Conservation Districts in individual “bullets”.

(2) Seedlings should be transplanted with a 3-point hitch forestry transplanter (Texas Parks & Wildlife Department or Texas Forest Service) into a freshly-ripped furrow, either in mottes or sculpted to natural contours of the landscape. Fifteen (15) feet minimum spacing within or between rows is recommended for our semi-arid climate. Size and distribution of plots should be determined based upon landowner goals, compatibility with grazing systems, and cover needs of targeted species (mule deer – 15 to 40% canopy cover; bobwhite quail -25% canopy; scaled quail – 10 to 15% canopy; pronghorns – 5 to 10%). Landowners wishing to consider the needs of neotropical (summer) migratory birds and “species of special concern” like the black-tailed prairie dog or swift fox that depend on shortgrass prairie may wish to consult with a local Department biologist for advise prior to employing this technique.

For optimal survival, transplanting should be done after our “rainy season” has begun, usually mid-May, so as to minimize the need for supplemental watering during the first year. Ideally, seedlings should be watered with 2-3 gallons per plant as part of the transplanting operation. Simply put, “if it doesn’t rain, don’t plant”, as this strategy does not utilize the high-successful weed barrier fabric mulch employed by regional biologists in shelterbelt installation (contact the Wildlife Division Field Office in Canyon @ 806/655-3782 to arrange a field tour with one of our cooperators).

Consider establishing initial mottes or “contours” in conjunction with riparian zones, draws, and gentle slopes (<3%) to take advantage of deeper soil types and existing/planned fencing (see Riparian Management). The growth form of saltbush should be larger on bottom sites and slightly smaller on gentle slopes or uplands (average 3-4 feet height).

Free technical assistance is available to landowners wishing to enhance wildlife habitat and populations through the Department’s Private Lands Enhancement Program. Contact your local biologist or the Wildlife Division at 806/655-3782 for more information.

Comments: Dale Rollins, Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist
Updated: Mar. 18, 1997

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