Landowner Tackles Brush Control While Increasing Water Availability, Wildlife Habitat
Story by Randy Henry
When it comes to assisting landowners and producers with brush management issues to help increase water quality and quantity in north-central Texas, the successful Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) is the conservation program to consider.
AWEP was established through the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 Farm Bill), and is a component of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) implements AWEP by entering into EQIP contracts directly with the agricultural landowners and producers that qualify for the program.
Tommy Berend, ranch operator at the 9,000-acre Circle A Ranch in Archer County, had a brush management problem and wanted to eliminate the water-sucking mesquite, restore open spaces, and plant native grasses. NRCS and Berend teamed up using AWEP, which is sponsored by the Chisholm Trail Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Council, to clear 67.7 acres that eventually will be utilized for grazing and wildlife habitat.
ï¿½We wanted to clear the mesquites so the land would not dry out as fast, and to grow more grass for wildlife, mainly quail,ï¿½ Berend said. ï¿½The mesquites consume too much water, so we wanted to conserve the water to make it better habitat for the birds and grazing for the cattle.ï¿½
NRCS offers technical and financial assistance through AWEP to landowners and producers working toward water availability solutions that conserve ground and surface water, along with addressing invasive brush species, water quantity and plant health on agricultural land such as cropland, pastureland, grassland, and rangeland.
ï¿½As water becomes more valuable and supplies decrease in rural lands, programs like AWEP are the answer for landowners and producers wanting to see the precious water saved for the best uses,ï¿½ said Howard Sprague, NRCS district conservationist in Archer County.
Brush management in the rural landscape helps increase the amount of available water. Its value not only provides benefits to the landowner, but also for many people downstream. Its increased water flow into Lake Arrowhead can have a significant impact on recreation and local water supplies.
ï¿½The first priority for the use of AWEP funds in the Lake Arrowhead Watershed is brush management with the goal of making more water available in the watershed,ï¿½ Sprague said. ï¿½The Circle A Ranch wanted to clear mesquite from 67.7 acres to create better wildlife habitat that will be favorable for quail while making more water available for the land.ï¿½
Berend used AWEP for clearing the mesquite and to create more open space, but also used technical expertise from NRCS to develop a seed mix proactive for cattle and wildlife together. The seed mix includes Little Bluestem, Alamo Switchgrass, Sideoats Grama, Lometa Indiangrass, Plains Bristlegrass, Green Sprangletop, Illinois Bundleflower, Hairy Vetch, and ï¿½Aztecï¿½ Maximilian Sunflower.
ï¿½We wanted to take out the mesquites on the ranch and weï¿½re doing a little at a time, so AWEP has started the process for us to get the grass more water and sunlight,ï¿½ Berend said. ï¿½We planted grasses to benefit our cattle and birds, and the seed mix NRCS recommended should be an excellent choice for our quail habitat.ï¿½
Besides using AWEP to reduce the mesquite that competes for limited water, NRCS along with Texas Tech Universityï¿½s Quail-Tech Alliance and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) all work with the Circle A Ranch to improve the quail habitat on the ranch.
ï¿½Next fall in 2012, we will release quail three times during the year with 1,200 to 1,300 birds in each release,ï¿½ said Raymond Ostermann, wildlife manager at the Circle A Ranch. ï¿½Many of the released quail are pen-raised Northern Bobwhites, staying in a fight pen for two and a half weeks surrounded by native habitat.ï¿½
ï¿½We have 55 barrel feeders throughout the ranch with sorghum and water devices on the side the birds can get too,ï¿½ he said.
Berend noted that working with TPWD for the last 2-3 years to improve their deer program on the ranch has been great, and NRCS has done the same for the quail habitat using the AWEP program.
ï¿½We could not get this done without our partners with TPWD and the Texas Tech Alliance,ï¿½ Berend said. ï¿½And, working with NRCS added to the value of the expertise we needed. NRCS was very easy to work with, and when we told them what we wanted to do, this program fit our goals for the ranch and was the perfect match.ï¿½
The Circle A Ranch plans to do the program next year in 2012 on 100 acres.
ï¿½There was nothing hard about the AWEP program, NRCS in Archer City made it easy to fit into our operation and what we wanted done on our ranch,ï¿½ Berend said.
This photo depicts what the wildlife habitat area looked like prior to the Circle A Ranch in Archer County, Texas, using the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) to clear 67.7 acres to create a quail habitat for a bird release next year. AWEP helped the rancher clear mesquite, restore open spaces, and plant native grasses.
This future quail habitat was cleared of water-sucking mesquite to restore open spaces for plants and grasses using the AWEP program. The seed mix that NRCS produced for the Circle A Ranch in Archer County consisted of Little Bluestem, Alamo Switchgrass, Sideoats Grama, Lometa Indiangrass, Plains Bristlegrass, Green Sprangletop, Illinois Bundleflower, Hairy Vetch, and ï¿½Aztecï¿½ Maximilian Sunflower.
Texas Tech Universityï¿½s Quail-Tech Alliance is working with the Circle A Ranch to establish food plots targeting quail habitat prior to the quail release next year. There will be 1,200-1,300 quail released three times during the summer of 2012, and NRCS and Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. are working with the Quail-Tech Alliance to make the quail habitat project successful on the ranch in Archer County, Texas.
The Circle A Ranch will have a release next summer of pen-raised Northern Bobwhites that have lived in this quail flight pen for two and one-half weeks. The flight pen has native grasses in it similar to the seed mix that NRCS produced for the 67.7 acres cleared using AWEP. This area will eventually become quail habitat on the ranch.