HABITAT MANAGEMENT PRACTICES FOR WILDLIFE VALUATION
HABITAT MANAGEMENT PRACTICES FOR WILDLIFE VALUATION
BY RUBEN CANTU AND GREG SIMONS
WILDLIFE CONSULTANTS, LLC
While agricultural tax valuation is fairly common, Texas landowners have a unique opportunity to qualify for wildlife management valuation. Under wildlife management valuation, just as under agriculture valuation, the ad valorem tax is assessed on production value not on market value.
Wildlife management valuation allows for practices such as livestock grazing, but does not require them. This gives landowners additional management flexibility, while providing the significant tax savings of agricultural valuation.
Almost any property that has qualified for agricultural valuation for the past five years can be transitioned to wildlife valuation. The Central Appraisal District in each county is the final decision-maker when it comes to both agricultural and wildlife valuation.
The transition requires landowners to complete a 1-d-1 Open Space Appraisal Application and a Wildlife Management Plan. (All necessary forms are available on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s website. For complete details on transitioning to a wildlife management tax valuation, see our article that appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of Lands of Texas magazine.)
As part of the Wildlife Management Plan landowners must choose to apply three of seven approved management practices to their property. The seven practices are: providing supplemental food, supplemental shelter, supplemental water, habitat control/management, erosion control, predator control, and conducting at least one census annually.
When choosing the wildlife management practices to incorporate on their property, landowners must first identify their land and wildlife management goals. The goals should reflect their personal desires, not the desires of a consultant, the chief appraiser or anyone who isn’t responsible for managing the property.
In addition, the wildlife species that landowners choose to manage for must be native species. Also, wildlife management practices must reach a certain “intensity level” appropriate for the property’s size, the species and the habitat present.
Finally, landowners should accurately identify which ecoregion is home to their land. A map of Texas’ 10 ecoregions is available as part of Guidelines for Qualification of Agricultural Land in Wildlife Management Use available on both the on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s and Texas Comptroller’s websites. The Comprehensive Wildlife Management Planning Guidelines for each ecoregion are also available on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department website.
Because each ecoregion is different, so are the specific management practices approved within each ecoregion. To qualify for—and maintain—wildlife management valuation it is important that landowners choose practices specific to their locale. For instance, planting wind breaks is an effective, recognized practice for controlling wind erosion. While it is highly recommended throughout the Texas Panhandle, it is not necessary or practical in the Piney Woods. If a landowner planted wind breaks in Marion County or any of the surrounding forested environs, the County Appraisal District might not recognize those efforts as a qualifying wildlife management practice.
Again, landowners must implement wildlife management practices in at least three of the seven categories. It is acceptable to apply more than three.
Landowners can supplement wildlife’s diets by creating food plots, using feeders or by increasing plant diversity by planting native species.
Food plots are not just for big game like deer. They can be planted for upland game birds, migratory birds or even monarch butterflies. The key is identifying the plants that are adapted to the location and meet the dietary requirements of the species being managed.
Like food plots, feeders can be used for big game such as protein feeders for white-tailed deer or for smaller species like neotropical songbirds. (As a note for deer enthusiasts, corn feeders generally do not qualify as a supplemental food source. The local County Appraisal District will make the final determination.) Neotropical birds are very popular. Different birds require different types of feeders. Landowners can provide an entire complement ranging from hummingbird feeders, seed feeders, finch feeders and suet feeders to meet all of the birds’ needs.
In the High Plains and Rolling Plains, landowners who have land enrolled in CRP that is planted in a grass monoculture can overseed the fields with a native plant mixture to create a diverse “buffet.”
The best shelter is good habitat, but supplemental shelters can provide “transitional housing” while the habitat improves. Supplemental shelter is most commonly used for birds. For instance, cavity nesting birds such as bluebirds, woodpeckers and wood ducks can benefit from bird boxes when old growth trees with cavities aren’t available.
On a property we manage near Rockwall, the landowners were clearing some wooded areas. We asked them to leave select large trunks standing to create snags suitable for nesting. Landowners interested in creating covered nesting sites for can also half cut trees along fence lines or leave brush piles intact until after the nesting season.
Providing supplemental water is simply increasing water sources available for wildlife. While these water sources can be guzzlers or other pre-fabbed waterers, they also can be a purposeful overflow of windmills or water troughs. By doing this, water accumulates for wildlife and birds. The wet area also attracts insects which generate prime bugging areas for birds.
In the Piney Woods, landowners can flood hardwood forests to establish green tree reservoirs for ducks. Playa lakes are flooded in the High Plains and Rolling Plains to create prime waterfowl habitat.
Constructing marshes is also a way to provide supplemental water.
The Comptroller’s Office dubbed this category Habitat Control although Habitat Management would be a more suitable name. Habitat, like so many things in nature, can’t be controlled only managed.
Landowners engaged in habitat management are actively creating an environment beneficial to wildlife. Tools at the landowners’ disposal include rotational livestock grazing, prescribed burning, and mechanical, chemical or biological brush management. Reseeding native plant species also falls under this category.
The activities can vary from managing the brushy understory in the Piney Woods to creating feeding and roosting locations for migrating waterfowl in playa lakes in the Texas Panhandle. In other areas of the state where brush is too dense, landowners can practice brush management to create more “edge.” Throughout the state, landowners can use prescribed burning to rejuvenate rangelands and improve foraging opportunities for wildlife.
Water and wind are the primary forces of erosion. Erosion control techniques help landowners keep valuable topsoil in place protecting the land’s fertility, its ability to hold water, and often water quality.
Generally, erosion control involves gently shaping the land to slow down water flow keeping the soil in place. It can also involve revegetating areas around stock tanks and in ripari san areas.
Occasionally there are dual purpose projects. For instance, if a landowner constructs a pond in an area prone to erosion, the pond may be considered both erosion control and supplemental water.
Wind erosion is most prevalent in the High Plains and Rolling Plains. Primary management techniques include planting wind breaks or grass cover crops to mitigate the wind’s destructive force.
Predator control in the context of wildlife management tax valuation is intended to help landowners better manage for target species. The classic example comes from the Hill Country where landowners managing for endangered black-capped vireos actively trap brown-headed cowbirds, which parasitize the vireos’ nests.
In other areas of the state, landowners may trap raccoons, foxes and other small mammals just prior to nesting season to allow ground nesting birds such as quail or turkey to more successfully hatch and raise their broods. Fire ants are also considered a predator for ground nesting birds in the eastern half of Texas. In the Trans Pecos, predator control efforts may target mountain lions or coyotes to help protect mule deer fawns.
An annual census, using recognized survey or inventory methods, is the landowner’s measuring stick. The first census creates a population baseline. Each succeeding census tells landowners how their management efforts are affecting the species. Is the species stable? Increasing? Decreasing?
Appropriate survey methods exist for every species. They range from spotlight, aerial and camera surveys for white-tailed deer to roost counts for turkeys to whistle counts for quail. Survey techniques exist for non-game species as well. Wildlife biologists can help determine the best method. The biologists can conduct the survey or teach landowners how to do it themselves.
As we’ve said before, landowners must have at least three approved management practices. Because gauging the effect of management on the species is so important, we recommend that census taking always be one of the three practices selected. A good census confirms for the landowner—and the Central Appraisal District—progress is being made on the land.
To learn more about wildlife management tax valuation or managing target species, contact Wildlife Consultants at (325) 655-0877 or see our website at www.TheWildlifeConsultants.com.