Utilizing Partners to Manage Wildlife Habitat on Private Lands

Feb 25, 2022 | Tips & Tricks | 0 comments

Public funding and Conservation Dollars for Private Landowners

I hear it all the time, why use public funding and conservation dollars to improve private land habitat when wildlife is a public resource? Shouldn’t we use those funds for public land? The answer is, it’s more complicated than that.

The art and science of managing wildlife populations under anthropogenic stress is a collective effort for the public good. Under the North American Model of Wildlife Management, wildlife is a public resource and held by the public through state and federal governments. In other words, you can own land but not the wildlife on it. We need to remind ourselves this model of wildlife management is uniquely American, provides ample hunting opportunity, and is in direct contrast to many other places around the world where wildlife is privately controlled. Our way of doing it is also the envy of the world.

chukar hunting
Having said this, we have a sort of paradox in the U.S. Wildlife is public BUT private lands constitute approximately 75% of the land mass in this country. This creates a problem where private landowners own most of the habitat, the public owns wildlife, and state and federal agencies are responsible for managing wildlife. We MUST engage and assist private landowners if we want to conserve wildlife species. Private lands are critically necessary to thriving wildlife populations; without private land we have no wildlife, period.

Tale of Two Lands

chukar hunting

Although the U.S. is approximately 75% private, the distribution of private ownership isn’t even across the Country. Look at the map above, the blue represents private land and tan public land. The East and the West were not created equal when it comes to private land/public land coverage. In the eastern half of the U.S. public lands are scarce. In the West vast tracts of public land exist with much less landmass constituting private lands.

EAST

In the East it is obvious we need to engage private landowners to manage wildlife. Large contiguous tracts of public land are hard to find and to solely rely on public land would result in an utter failure of managing sustainable wildlife populations. It really is that simple.
bird dog's feet after chukar hunting

WEST

In the West it’s much less obvious why we need to engage private landowners in managing wildlife populations. Simply looking at the map one might surmise enough large tracts of public land are available to sustain healthy wildlife populations. This assumption isn’t the complete picture. The West is much drier and productive land is harder to come by. What happened as the West was being settled is people set up in fertile valleys, where water was, and the most productive surrounding rangelands. Not much unlike animals, they wanted to use the best lands to thrive and survive harsh landscapes. For these reasons, much of the most productive and valuable wildlife habitats in the West are in private ownership. The same areas early settlers made home to survive are the same areas wildlife need to thrive. Western landowners MUST also be engaged in sustainable wildlife management.
bird dog's feet after chukar hunting

COSTS and EXPERTISE

Owning and managing wildlife habitat costs money, lots of money. Whether the property is being used for agriculture or being left in a “natural state” there are certain activities landowners can do to improve habitat and those activities come with substantial financial inputs. Not only a cost though, technical expertise on what to do, when to do it, and how to do it are also what landowners are looking for. Fortunately many resources exist to help landowners pay for and plan land management activities for thriving wildlife.

WHO CAN HELP ME AS A LANDOWNER WITH FINANCIAL AND TECHNICAL HELP

Government People

State Agencies
Most landowners turn to their state wildlife agencies first, and for good reason. Most, if not all, state wildlife agencies have a position who specializes in working with landowners for wildlife habitat management. Other state agencies who could assist landowners might be Departments of water quality and departments of agriculture who have landowner specialists.

Federal Agencies
Sometimes having the federal government on your land to collaborate on land management can be a scary thought. It doesn’t need to be. Many federal programs exist solely to improve land, water, soils, and wildlife. The two I suggest most commonly to landowners is the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program (PFW). NRCS and PFW’s sole purpose is to work with landowners for the health of land and wildlife. Both have wildlife biologists, soil experts, and land management planners who can help you plan and fund wildlife conservation on your private lands.

chukar hunting dog

Non-Government People

Non-government organizations (NGO’s) are organizations who are not made up of government employees. Most of them are non-profits focused on conservation and working with others to accomplish habitat conservation and wildlife management. Because they aren’t the government, some people feel more comfortable initiating contact and inviting them to their property. The list could really go on-and-on with NGO’s. What we’ll do here is list some of the bigger ones to cover a range of habitats and focuses. Trout Unlimited, Pheasants and Quail Forever, National Deer Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Audubon Society, National Turkey Federation, Whitetails Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, Mule Deer Foundation.

chukar hunting dog

Private Consultant People

Private wildlife consultants are really very similar to the biologist and scientist listed above in government agencies and NGO’s. The difference being a private consultant is a private enterprise. They run a business and are for-profit. Don’t let this scare you away though. Many private consultants are willing to meet and discuss opportunities free of charge. They can help you find and contact other conservation partners and play an important role on the team you put together to implement wildlife conservation practices. They can also implement wildlife conservation practices being paid for by other NGO and government partners, meaning little to no money out of your pocket. Use google to find one near you, as many exist across the country and are usually tied to the local geography.
chukar hunting dog

Build a Dream Team

In my experience the most successful private landowner wildlife managers are the ones who are pro-active, keep in close contact with their local conservation partners, are willing to put in some work, and build a team made up of people from these, and other organizations. Also, show your enthusiasm, be excited about your property and wildlife goals. People want to work with and help those who are passionate about conservation. The best part is most of your local wildlife conservationists know one another, already work together, and are just as passionate as you about sustainable habitat and wildlife management.
chukar hunting dog
Turn on the layers inside your “Roads & Trails” section to help you find roads and trails that you can travel at dawn or dusk where you may likely hear bulls bugling. Specifically, look for roads at the heads of canyons where you are more likely to hear longer distances.

About the Author:

dog pointing a chukar
Clint Wirick lives with his wife and kids, bird dogs, chickens, and pigeons in rural southern Utah where the sagebrush of the Great Basin and red rock of the Colorado Plateau beautifully blend together. He has been in the wildlife biology and habitat restoration profession for 13 years. Currently, he builds partnerships around private land habitat conservation and leads a program dedicated to wildlife habitat conservation on private lands. His passions besides his family and career are chukar hunting with his bird dogs, big game hunting, and photography.
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