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If Your Native Grasses Look Like This, It's Time for Management

February 24, 2017
Grassland

When biologists and land managers talk about managing native warm-season grasses (NWSG) they are really talking about managing early-successional plant communities. Early-successional vegetation (i.e., stands of annual or perennial grasses and forbs [broadleaf plants]) provide benefits for a variety of game and non-game wildlife species. Songbirds, northern bobwhite, and ring-necked pheasants use these areas to build nests and raise broods in the summer and for escape and thermal cover in the winter. White-tailed deer also use these areas heavily for bedding, to hide fawns from predators, and the forbs provide deer with excellent nutrition during the summer.

However, as these stands age their value to most wildlife species decreases drastically! Most stands of planted NWSG have little value, for species such as bobwhite, within 3-5 years of establishment. As the stands age, the tall perennial NWSGs (big bluestem and indiangrass) become thicker; eventually crowding out all the forbs in the stand and creating a monoculture of grass. In the winter, the grasses fall over or “lodge”, as in the picture, and provide little to no cover.

This is why programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program require Mid-Contract Management (MCM) during years 4, 5, or 6 of the contract. MCM is aimed at maintaining or enhancing the wildlife value of NWSG stands by thinning the NWSGs providing room for planted and volunteering forbs to grow. These forbs act as supports for the grasses, helping them stand tall all winter, attract pollinators and insects important to foraging songbirds and game birds in the summer, and provide seed throughout the winter. Additionally, thinning the grasses and providing more room for weeds or forbs to grow will make it easier for ground dwelling wildlife to move and forage.

If your stand of NWSGs looks like the picture above, the time to manage them is not now but 2 years ago! However, managing them now can be effective and you have some options!

For full article and to view the options available see Got Nature? blog-If Your Native Grasses Look Like This, It's Time for Management.

Additional Resources:
Herbicides to reduce NWSG density, SEAFWA
Landowner’s guide to NWSG management, TRACE
Quail Habitat – Putting the Numbers in Perspective, The Education Store
Control of Canada Thistle in CRP and Other Noncrop Acerage, The Education Store

Jarred Brooke, Extension Wildlife Specialist;
Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

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