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Establishment of Seeded Grasslands for Wildlife Habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region


Introduction


Habitat management is one of the most basic and practical activities employed in wildlife management. Management of grassland habitat is an integral part of wildlife programs that influence the distribution and production of game species in the prairie pothole region. Man's activities have often been detrimental to wildlife but some species are highly responsive to the establishment of new habitat. The purpose of this publication is to help land managers establish and maintain good stands of seeded grasslands for waterfowl nesting and use by other prairie wildlife. Figure 1 shows the area of applicability for these grassland establishment guidelines (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service [USDA-SCS] 1978a).

The 300,000-square-mile glaciated prairie pothole region was originally a magnificent area of extensive native grasslands containing millions of wetlands. Diverse and abundant populations of mammals and birds inhabited this area in association with natural plant communities. Following occupation of the land by European man, the area was drastically modified and its suitability for waterfowl production is now greatly reduced in many areas. Cultivation and crop production have eliminated nearly all natural vegetation on thousands of square miles and overgrazing has reduced the quality of many remaining native grasslands. Studies have indicated duck production to be low in intensively farmed agricultural regions of the prairie pothole region (Milonski 1958; Higgins 1977). Preservation and management of public and private lands by State and Federal agencies are needed to increase production of waterfowl and other prairie wildlife.

Establishment and manipulation of upland plant communities to provide high-quality grassland cover are important management activities on lands administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the prairie pothole region. Skillful management of vegetation on upland habitats is an important factor in dabbling duck production because most species in the prairie pothole region nest in the uplands. Fortunately, it is possible to establish good grassland habitat on lands that have been previously tilled by planting introduced grasses and legumes or native grass. The best possible grassland stands should be maintained on wildlife management areas because these areas make up only a small proportion of the total habitat base for prairie wildlife. Intensive management to provide undisturbed habitats for wildlife is not probable on private land or public lands managed for other purposes.

Seeded grasslands are a crop of the soil just as is corn, barley, or wheat. Careful attention must be given to cultural practices, such as site preparation and seeding techniques, to ensure good stands of grass. If the technology developed by wildlife and agricultural researchers is to benefit wildlife production on managed habitat it must be made available in ways that will stimulate application by managers.


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