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Conservation in action, on a personal scale

e all talk about improving hunting for our favorite game and how the good hunting always seems to be in the next county or the next state. We as hunters and outdoorsmen can, with little expense, put our conservation principles in action.

Habitat is the most important part of any conservation plan. Much of the natural habitat we had 50 years ago is gone. If there is no place for wildlife to live, they will die.

I remember hunting quail when my sons were in high school. We would go out on a Saturday morning and would all have our limit by noon. Quail casserole with mushrooms on rice is a dish hard to beat on a Saturday night. This was less than 20 years ago.

Today, when somebody sees a quail, it is something remarkable. In the last two months, I have seen many more bald eagles on my place than quail.

An abandoned railroad right of way was bulldozed out across the road. Marginal farm ground was put into CRP. Predator populations have exploded since women wearing fur is no longer fashionable. A couple of winters in a row with unusual amounts freezing rain and ice cover just about finished off the birds.

I recently visited with a friend that attended the state Pheasants Forever meeting. He spoke of the advances being made from funding raised by sportsmen to not only improve pheasant hunting, but to also bring quail back to our area. If one or two species benefit from our help, many others will, too. Simple things can make a big difference. Quail, rabbits, and many song birds prefer downed trees or something like plum thickets at the edge of the timber. If this area is free of grass and weeds, they can move about eating while being protected from attack by hawks. They are able to keep dry and avoid other predators in the branches or brush.

Downed trees at the edges of timber improve the appearance of the area. Deer will browse the tops and watch for danger approaching. Turkey can enjoy a meal out of the wind. Such a small amount of effort will provide a lot of benefits. In the spring, weeds can be controlled with herbicide and food can be planted on these edges. I am really enthusiastic about talking with a biologist to maximize our habitat potential.

In the past, I have concentrated on food plots. I have had great success in keeping all sorts of our furry and feathered forest friends happy and well-fed during the winter, but I am sure a combination of habitat improvement and food plots will do much better. Food plots have drawn in a wide variety of wildlife and helped to keep them healthy. A small patch of habitat or a little food plot set off in an unused corner will reap many benefits to many animals.

We as hunters and outdoorsmen have the responsibility to set the standard in conservation. In the past, conservation efforts by sportsmen have changed our outdoors for the enjoyment of everyone. Even if we do only a small part we can improve the corner of the world in which we live, for ourselves and future generations.

Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Bloomfield, Iowa.