Habitat questions


Active Member
Last year I applied for financial aid through the NRCS EQIP program. I met with a biologist last week and he called back this evening with some suggestions.
I have 4 very small food plots on my place of only about 1/8-1/4 acre each. I told him I really wanted to clear out and burn around these plots to increase them to about 1/2 acre each.
He said the only help NRCS could offer with that is paying $165 per acre towards the brush clearing and $125 per acre for planting native grass. This means I would get about $300 financial aid and the brush clearing would probably cost me about 3 times that. If I sign the EQIP contract, the brush area cleared MUST remain in native grass for a period of time (I think 10 years). So I could not plant food plot blend seeds on the cleared areas but I could continue planting my little 1/8-1/4 acre spots in whatever I want.
First question I have is, is it worth it? Me having to go majority out of pocket anyways, would I be better off forgetting the $300 financial aid and just paying for it all so that I can plant whatever I want? The native grasses that would be planted is a mixture of switchgrass, blue stem, partridge pea, and other natives. Would these natives still be attractive to wildlife? I know deer will eat some of them but if I really want to draw deer in to hunt, would you say I'd be a whole lot better off planting the usual wheat, oats and rye?
Second question involves herbicide.
The woods are a mixture of pine and oaks but mainly 8 year old junk trees like maple, sweet gum, poplar and other low value. He suggested aerial herbicide to kill off all broadleafs and keeping three 5 acre tracts in a 3 year burn rotation.
The financial aid would pay about 100% of the ariel herbicide and burning cost. My concern is killing off all the mature, nut producing oaks. Many are probably 40 yrs old. I really don't like the thought of killing off these big oaks to create better browse. But wanted to know others opinions on this.
Personally I would let them keep their $300.00. You can do the same work yourself and keep your mature trees and not be tied down for 10 years. In a couple of years you may need to expand your plots and under the program you won't be able too.
It's your land so follow your heart and desires. If you follow me much you see I loves the mature oaks. A good white oak begins its major production at 20-30 years of age, and some not until they are near 50 yo. I'm not sure of your area, but when acorns drop there is no greater attraction for deer. And we are talking thousands of acorns per tree. In addition, the food they provide fatten them in quick order for what ever stressed the winter gives, and thus fawn production and antler development is greater following heavy mast years. You can develop cover and browse without negation of mature timber if you plan accordingly. And no need to kill an oak as it is fighting for its life against a variety of diseases progressing across the country with wilt , blight, and gypsy moth. If you were talking 3000$ maybe I'd bite, but for me, its a negatory.
Read up on Lickcreeks thots of hinge cutting to create edge and browse. Good luck whatever you decide and let us know the results of your labor either way.
I just looked over my aerial map again this evening and I think I've identified a 10 acre area that could be sprayed with herbicide from helicopter that wouldn't take out any of the mature oaks. This area is all mature pine seed trees and 10 ft tall scrub trees like maple.
I may have trouble finding an aerial applicator that will do only a ten acre tract?
But from what I'm told by forestry, aerial herbicide in this area costs about $50-$60 per acre (maybe more for really small tracts) and the EQIP plan pays me $85 per acre to have it done.
EQIP pays .28 cents a foot for firebreaks and GA forestry charges $90 per hour. I'm thinking that I should come out little to no out of pocket to do this.
So after thinking more about this tonight, I'm leaning towards doing just the herbicide in the no oak area, firebreaks and do my own brush clearing/food plot expansion since it only payed $300 towards it.
Unless someone who has experience with this tells me I'm going wrong???
I am curious to hear if native grasses would be any benefit over planted food plots?
I'm not a forester, but I wouldn't want my woods sprayed like that. Even burning is a hard concept for me. I would rather spend my life working my way across a property on foot with a hand saw or chainsaw. I'd pass on the cost sharing money for the plot clearing too. That's more personal than anything. I'm just not inclined to give up any management authority on my own property. Don't let that deter you though. It's just my primary concern.
Check the contract closely, when I did my WHIP project the contract would pay "up to" a certain amount for each item, it WOULD NOT pay more than the actual cost.....and some items it would only pay a percentage of the actual cost. That may not be the case now, but it was then and I had to submit receipts to receive payment.

Around here, most of the aerial herbicide application for trees is done with SPIKE, a granular product which can be applied with less drift risk than a liquid.

On my project, we used a dozer to do the "brush clearing" and took out every tree less than 10" in diameter on 19 acres. The "brush clearing" made a big difference but the biggest impact/improvement has been from burning.

There is no way I'd sign a contract for a few hundred dollars, especially if it did not allow me to do exactly what I wanted to do.
I think my brother and I could hinge cut nearly every safe-to junk tree in 10 acres in two days, especially since it's a majority of pine already..... Hinge cutting them would considerably help the local deer population, as opposed to killing them all standing upright. Then you have to worry about hundreds of dead widow makers in this section of property whenever you, your kids, grandkids, wife, etc are walking through it or hunting it.... FOR A LONG TIME

I'm not a fan of round-up, but I use it. I couldn't use aerial herbicides to kill broadleaf trees without losing sleep at night; in my continuing efforts to be a Steward of the Land. Plus, this past years efforts of hinging has changed my property for the better, big time.

I surely wouldn't take that NRCS money either. I talked to the NRCS a few years ago and couldn't imagine putting limits on my property as I am developing it. Maybe after everything is in place and done I could, but during the development stage it seems like the wrong time to me.

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Simply keep in mind what your objectives are and your plan for the layout of the property. IF you can get some financial assistance in getting you there, then that is great. If not, then simply do what you can when you can. We all have different goals for our properties - a mix of young pines and young hardwood saplings sounds like a potential bedding home-run to me (but deer may prefer something different in your area). But it may not fit into what you want. $300 seems like a pretty small gain that could end up with your hands tied. I am all for government programs (I am in CRP programs) but they have to serve the purpose YOU want. I would really struggle with killing young producing oaks myself. I would prefer to select which ones go and which ones stay. Yes it's going to take time and labor to do so, but at least I make sure I get the results I want. The scale and scope of the work needed also comes into play. Hinging 10 areas is one things......hinging 50 is another.

If these programs offer you a tool and financial assistance to get you what you want then go for it.....if not, walk away and do what you can when you can on your own.

Just my 2 cents worth.
Was your goal to expand the food plots? If that is the case and your hands are tied would the program actually benefit you? Maybe the best approach if looking to expand your food plots is to just start clear cutting out to expand your plots and when you get to size you are wanting hinge cut the the rest of your 10 acres to enhance your plots while leaving you the option to expand out into that area in the future if you choose to do so. If you don't then you have a great bedding area that you have put together around these expanded plots. This may take you years to accomplish depending on the time you have to work on your ground but IMO you would be more satisfied at the end of the project by getting exactly what you are looking for instead of what you are told you are stuck with for 10 years. $300 is just not enough to justify being stuck in a program for me anyway.
$300, $3,000 or even $30,000, I wouldn't do it. Experience, new knowledge, more understanding and new ideas have changed my thinking along this habitat journey. By taking nothing from the government programs I get to change plans whenever I want with no one's permission.

And WOW! Killing acres of mature oak trees would be almost as much of a crime as killing mature apple trees. There are rare instances ,no make that extremely rare when selectively destroying one or two individual trees here and there would make sense.
I think the biologist's and the forester's reasoning for the herbicide treatement and future burns was that it would greatly increase food and cover for wildlife. As it sits now it is providing great cover but it is as good now as it will ever be. And hinge cutting now would be very difficult because it is extremely thick with briars and small trees.
He said that the oaks provide some food, some years, but by placing 3 small tracts in a 3 year burn rotation. The deer will always have plenty of food and cover. And the EQIP plan would pay a lot towards doing this, I may not have to come out of pocket any. I would just have to keep burning the areas in the future, which I am fine with. I'm not for or against it yet, I'm glad I get to ask these questions to those you have more experience than I do on this stuff.
The food plot expansion is a separate plan and the biologist didn't seem to think it would be that beneficial either. He just said that they could help a little towards increasing the size of the plots but the down side was they needed to stay in native vegetation.
But to clear up the matter of food plot expansion, I could still plant the 1/8-1/4 acres I am currently planting.
I cannot increase the size anymore now with my equipment (I've tried) there are old pine tops, brush piles and thick mess that my 20 hp tractor can't do anything more with. If they increase size of the plots to 1/2 acre each and down the road I wanted to expand more, and plant with whatever I wanted, I could. I just couldn't plant the area they cleared for me. Because they are clearing it for the sole purpose of establishing native grass. It's really not any different than CRP from what I understand.
Why not just spend a few hundred and have a dozer expand your food plots??

In my experience, considering the amount of work they can do in a short time, dozer work isn't that expensive.
Why not just spend a few hundred and have a dozer expand your food plots??

In my experience, considering the amount of work they can do in a short time, dozer work isn't that expensive.
X2 - I can have a lot done in 3 hours with a dozer guy I use...
I am having a dozer clear to expand the food plots.
The question is whether or not to take the $300 and have a portion of it planted in native grasses or not.
I have heard some people say they like having some areas in native grass in addition to cereal grain and clovers.
And also, I talked to NCRS again today and it's a three year contract not 10.
So a little over half of my food plot would be native grasses and the rest I could plant in whatever for three years, then I can plant 100% in whatever.
Native grasses are not bad - they just are not a magic bullet. They can make a nice buffer between the woods and your plot and in the right applications they can foster bedding as well, but not always. Native grasses can be expensive and difficult to establish depending on what it is. A 3 year contract is also a lot easier to handle as well.

The 3 year rotation or longer is fine and it will always have an area in some sort of successional status which is good for lots of critters, however killing producing oaks just makes me cringe (that's more a personal thing on my part). The rotation will be good for ensuring there is some cover and browse available - otherwise over time the oak canopy will close up and the understory will decline and then your back to having to cut down oak trees again. I guess I personally would just want a say in which oaks went and which ones stayed vs killing them all. Not all oaks are created equal, I would retain a nice mix and variety of them if possible while still opening up the canopy if and when needed. With some prep work around the base of those trees you could still do a burn without damaging them.
Long term benefit of small plots for wildlife is NIL....and can be quite costly!

Best to use EQIP 'cost share' for projects which encompass large tracts of native lands or small intense costly projects like ponds....all long term projects. EQIP is cost share meaning you pay for the job and they reimburse a portion of cost when done....kinda depends on what contractor charges.....this contrasts govt grants under CSP where supplemental pay is based on past practice installment and practice continuance. EQIP annual contract will pay toward initial fire break and initial burn of 1 NEW burn unit/yr.....but will not pay for break maintenance or future fires for that 1 unit. 3 units can be burned over 3 years under 1 contract with one unit scheduled for a break and burn each year. Burning is generally good for increasing plant diversity for wildlife at ground level and how well the outcome depends on how open the understory for air movement and the upper-story for sunlight transmission. Not all of your timbered land should be burned....leave some untreated! The full benefit of fire (eg increased plant diversity and cover at ground level) in timbered land isn't realized unless it is done in conjunction with a TSI program to remove cull trees letting more air and light in....it is also a process taking a decade or more of time to complete. If the land has been non-cultivated historically, there should be no need to plant native grasses or forbs as disturbance will prompt their return from the seed bank. What is the 200 year history of your timbered land?....let that help guide your management decisions.
The land area is 78 acres and we are acquiring an additional 31 acres of adjoining land (hopefully) this year so I am talking about working less than 10% of total land. The remaining 90% will be left in natural regeneration and much of it is more pure, open hardwoods, swamps and creek bottoms. If left un touched, these areas I'm talking about will eventually turn into young forest timber and will offer little in the way of food or cover.
So I talked again this afternoon with the biologist and he had talked today to the forester and I think the final plan I decided on is to just do the firebreak installation and burn 3 tracts that total roughly 10-15 acres. EQIP will pay for majority of firebreak work.
I will do the food plot expansion outside of a contract so that I can choose what to plant.
Thanks for input all.
I've looked at government programs several times and just can't pull the trigger on any of them. Signing too much control of MY property to them just doesn't set right. I know people do it and have great results for them. I guess I change my mind to often to venture down that road.
Not saying I won't do it if the right program or deal comes along, I just haven't found it yet.
Just a couple quick facts about the EQIP program for y'all...
Some have said they would not want it because it gives Gov too much control over what they do.
Well actually you still have complete control over what you do on your land if you sign the contract. There is no penalty to pay if you break your contract, you just have to pay back whatever amount they give you. Which I feel is totally fair. So I'm my case, if they paid me $300 to establish native grass and the next year I decided to plant soybeans, I would just have to give the $300 back and being an honest person, I would.
The prescribed burn areas, there is nothing I couldn't do if I understood him. I could plant the firebreaks, cut the timber, whatever I want to do is fine. He said I could go in the burned areas and make a new food plot if I want.
So I don't really see why some have a problem with it. I'm researching this, asking questions and learning.
The plan is made specifically to help landowners manage their land. Some for agriculture, some, like me, just for wildlife. I pay taxes so if I can get a small part back in the way of improvements to my land for wildlife, I'll happily do it. Thanks again for everyone's input!