Creating a Better Place For Wildlife

A few years ago, after many years of looking, I purchased about 100 acres of land near Maramec Spring, between St. James and Steelville. I was as proud as a new father to own an Ozark garden of many oaks, hickories and dogwoods.

The previous owner had selectively logged the property less than a decade earlier. Some areas were so choked with new growth that I couldn't walk through them. As I learned later, this was not a bad thing. New growth offers wildlife food and shelter. A rejuvenating forest may not be as pretty as a mature oak forest, but it has its own subtle beauty.

My goal for my new property was to provide food and shelter for a diverse variety of wildlife. I also wanted to clean it up a bit. My task appeared formidable. The property was basically 99 percent woods and had no permanent water. It also was littered with discarded tree tops in various stages of decay.

My business experience taught me to "plan my work and work my plan." My first step was to formulate a comprehensive rehabilitation and management plan for my land. Mike Martin, a Private Land Conservationist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, helped me put my plan into action.

I cleared, limed, disced, fertilized and cultivated miles of walking paths. These paths are about 8 feet wide and contain orchard grass, spring oats, Korean lespedeza and ladino clover. It was important for wildlife not to consume all my planting efforts, and for spring rains not to wash them all away. So, in addition to hard work, I needed a little luck.

Thanks to hard work and that much appreciated good luck, I now have 400-yard green paths where before there was bare dirt, leaves, rocks and sticks.

Picture walking on these paths, surrounded by large oaks and hickories. In other areas, these grassy paths are bordered by thick vegetation fueled by full sun. There, you can see and hear colorful songbirds flying in and out of the brush.

I also had to deal with the expansive tops of the big trees that were logged by the previous owner, as well as cut logs that were left behind. I pushed these into ravines to slow runoff from hard rains. I cut others to speed their decay, and others I simply piled up and burned.

The many hand-made brushpiles near these grassy areas are important, too. Small lizards and other