By Emily Bialkowski
Advocates for Houston County’s feathered fauna are taking time to speak with local decision makers and work with the school to improve habitat and population numbers for both pheasants and quail.
On Dec. 11 Jason Ludwigson, president of the Root River Pheasants Forever Chapter, addressed the county board to see if roadside ditch maintenance could be adjusted to create habitat for pheasants.
“The amount of habitat for wildlife has been greatly reduced over the years for agriculture purposes, and there are very few places left for upland birds to nest,” Ludwigson said. “Over the years I’ve grown very concerned with the mowing of roadsides. It’s detrimental to wildlife habitat.”
Ludwigson said ditches offer a great nesting site for pheasants and hopes the county will consider cutting back – if you will – on the amount of mowing executed each year or consider planting native prairie grasses that require less mowing.
He suggested county roads be put on an every third year mowing rotation, which also saves money.
Ludwigson acknowledged arguments from the other side of the fence, such as driver safety, visibility and nuisance trees.
“I’ve heard concerns from county engineers who want to keep trees from growing on roadsides – every three years would be more than enough for keeping trees from growing.
“I’ve also heard from county engineers that it’s an obstruction to drivers – there are steps to minimize that by sloping ditches and planting low-growing native prairie grasses that don’t inhibit drivers from seeing turkeys, deer and that kind of thing,” Ludwigson said.
Commissioner Jack Miller asked if Ludwigson knew of any model counties Houston County could look to for an example.
County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski said Wabasha County has done well with planting a native stand. He said, “You need a three-mile stretch or longer to make it worthwhile because when you intersperse with non-native you still have to mow those and help the native establish itself.”
Pogodzinski said he was “definitely not opposed” to the idea of native grasses but said there’s some different maintenance issues related to native grasses, such as a controlled burn every three years.
“You also have to remove the old vegetation entirely when trying to establish native grasses,” Pogodzinski said.
He said each year the highway department attempts to mow the shoulders twice and the ditches once. “One year we only got around once, and we received a lot of calls,” he said.
Commissioner Teresa Walter confirmed his report, nodding that she received calls on the matter as well.
However, Pogodzinski said he sees the state moving to native grasses over time. He said there are several manuals put out by the state to help municipalities through such a change, and that native seed typically costs $1 per pound more than other grasses.
The board was receptive to Lugwigson’s concern and said that perhaps they can try native grasses on one of their future road projects. Commissioner Justin Zmyewski asked if the mow height could be increased to allow for habitat, and Pogodzinski said he will inquire about that.
In a semi-related issue, Thurman Tucker of the Southeast Quails Forever Chapter reported – in the organization’s most recent newsletter – that Caledonia Middle School/High School has decided to do a quail habitat project on school property. The land already has ample amounts of warm season grasses and some forbs to start with, he said.
“Our southeast chapter will be working with them to build some covey headquarters, and we will work with the school to put in one or two food plots on their site,” Tucker said.
After Christmas the school will be collecting discarded Christmas trees to get some covey headquarters established. During the winter months quail need their covey headquarters (brushy area that covers about 1,500 square feet) to be close to their food source. Quail need their food within 75 feet of good cover. The deeper the snow cover the greater the stress it puts on quail (see chart). It’s believed that quail can handle very cold weather with little or no snow without any real problems, but when deep snow is persistent it changes things, Tucker said.
This project will help quail establish a solid covey on school grounds.