Landowners across Nebraska enrolled land in a Nebraska Game and Parks Commission program to help increase access to private lands for hunting and fishing. They received per-acre payments in doing so.
But suitable habitat on land enrolled in the Open Fields and Waters Program could be limited this fall. While Nebraska upland bird hunters can find excellent habitat across the state, some may find Open Fields and Waters program public access sites lacking suitable habitat because emergency haying and grazing that was authorized by the USDA due to the extreme drought conditions, says Tim McCoy of the Game and Parks Commission.
Open Fields and Waters Program areas provide public walk-in hunting and fishing access to more than 275,000 acres of private land.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission recommends hunters scout sites as the statewide pheasant, quail and partridge season has just begun.
Of the hayed or grazed Open Fields and Waters sites, most will have 50% percent habitat and few may have no habitat remaining, McCoy says. Because of the production schedule, the 2012 Public Access Atlas does not reflect hayed or grazed lands. Payment will be adjusted or withheld if landowner haying or grazing results in significant loss of wildlife cover, he adds.
Most of the haying or grazing occurred following the nesting season, which is typically early May through mid-July. Nest success should not have been affected, but the lack of habitat could have had a negative effect on chick survival. In addition, upland game birds only need a small percentage of the total habitat in the form of winter cover for survival.
The reduction of habitat can be detrimental, but haying and grazing also have positive effects, such as removal of unwanted trees and disturbance of thick grass stands, which promotes plant diversity for better nesting and brood rearing habitat, according to McCoy. Haying and grazing also can be a great pre-treatment for habitat upgrades such as disking or interseeding.