Project Coverts works for wildlife

Rothschild, Wis. — Land management and habitat ideas.

Timber sale plans.

Tax relief.

Networking and friendships.

Even family unity and pride in ownership and hard work.

These are all reasons why landowners attend Project Coverts workshops every August. They’re also why 100 habitat junkies who already attended early Coverts sessions returned for a Project Coverts reunion for three days in August.

Coverts is a 14th century English word describing a dense thicket that provides shelter for wildlife. The reunion gave landowners a chance to hear two dozen speakers on all aspects of land management.

Landowners have had access to these workshops since 1994. Coverts is sponsored by the Ruffed Grouse Society, UW-Extension and Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, Wisconsin Sustainable Forestry Initiative, the Spaeth family and Braun Woodlands.

Coverts reunions are held every few years, with 2016 being the third reunion. Since 1994, Coverts has worked with 642 landowners who manage about 370,000 in total.

Jamie Nack, UW-Extension senior wildlife outreach specialist, is the Coverts coordinator.

The reasons that landowners participate vary, but most want to learn how to manage land, network with other landowners, or share what they’ve learned on their property.

Paul Drzewiecki, of New London, said that he always learns something new. Coverts is a “wonderful opportunity for landowner learning,” he said.

Abett Icks and Ron Caple, of Cable, said Project Coverts assisted them with getting a Wisconsin mammal identification program started along a trail in Cable.

Kathy Wendling, of Bayfield, said the conference networking opportunities are important.

She received assistance from retired RGS consultant Gary Zimmer in past years that helped to put together a public education program along North Pikes Creek.

“I learn from people I meet at Coverts. The networking is wonderful,” Wendling said. “It’s like throwing a pebble into the water and the ripples spread.”

2016 topics

Reunion topics included changes the legislature made in the Managed Forest Law, strategies to offset changing climate, restoring oaks, using hunting leases, maintaining trails and openings for wildlife, and how to fight invasive plants. There was also a thought-provoking session on what might happen to their land when landowners become too old to enjoy it.

Nack described ways to engage the next generation by sharing passions with children. She suggested holding an annual family work day, collecting wild edibles, and keeping a journal.

“It’s never too early to get your children connected to your property, and help create your own legacy,” she said.

Scott Walter, RGS wildlife biologist, told of his Richland County land that has been in his family since 1860. He said the habitat has changed over the years. Walter emphasized the need to keep his children involved with the land, from helping with maple syrup to creating brush piles for wildlife.

“Why do we hang onto the land?” he asked. “For aesthetics, for love of our family, and for love of the land.”

Jim LaLuzerne, told of taking land near De Pere that was barren ground with no cover and turning it into a diverse habitat that today has trees, flowers, and butterflies.

Dr. Rick Braun talked about his diverse woodlands in Langlade, Sawyer and Vilas counties, which the family has been managing since the mid-1950s.

“Forestry is similar to gardening, but on a different time scale,” Braun said. He said that not cutting woodlands is just as bad as cutting it too hard.

Landowners should work with a forester and write down their goals so they can later evaluate the success of their efforts.

Other advice that Braun passed along included: don’t try to fight Mother Nature; grow what will do best on your site; don’t try to grow exotic plants; and have patience until the timber has reached the highest economic maturity.

“You spend 70 to 80 years growing the timber, so don’t give it away. There is nothing wrong with making money from the woods,” Braun said.

Stephen Handler, of the Forest Service, said landowners today face more intense precipitation cycles.

Handler said that by the end of the century the annual temperatures will be 5 to 10 degrees warmer, there will be 25 inches less snowfall, and a longer growing season.

“Heavier rainfall and warmer winters are likely to be the biggest changes in our lifetimes,” he said.

Chris Borden, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, reminded landowners to consider the Environmental Quality Incentive Program to help with projects on the land.

Mark Rickenbach, a UW forestry professor, outlined the changes that the legislature made in the Managed Forest Law.

“This law helps landowners by reducing property taxes in exchange for long-term timber production,” Rickenbach said.

Some changes in MFL include: now landowners may close up to 320 acres (previously it was 160 acres); severance and yield tax is no longer collected on a forest sale; the agreement between landowner and state is now considered a contract, rather than just an agreement, and it is easier for landowners to make additions to their owned land; and landowners may now lease their closed acreage in MFL which had been banned.

Another change – minimum enrollment size has increased from 10 to 20 acres.

Now landowners have a larger list of professionals eligible to approve cutting notices. The DNR is no longer required to approve the harvest. However the landowner is still liable if something goes wrong, so it is worth asking the DNR to review the harvest to be sure it complies with the plan.

Jeremy Holtz, a DNR wildlife biologist, said that Wisconsin’s Young Forest Partnership is sponsored by conservation groups to help landowners realize that young forests will benefit species such as golden-winged warblers, woodcock, and ruffed grouse.

A young forest is comprised of saplings and seedlings that often follow a disturbance such as fire, wind throw, or logging.

“We need some of all forests, young and old,” Holtz said, but the younger forests are disappearing. It takes specific work, such as a harvest, to regenerate young forests that have more value to wildlife than previously thought.

Terry Ides, of Fifield, shared his experiences in owning 400 acres where he has developed hunter walking trails.

“Trails provide good accessibility to the woods, and I plant them with Alsike and White Dutch clover and mow them every other week,” Ides said.

By managing his woods, and planting three food plots, Ides said it is not unusual that hunters experience more than 25 flushing birds a day. The key is managing the land, which includes logging.

Other speakers included:

• Bob Nack, DNR Deer Management Assistance Program coordinator, said the world of wildlife management is changing, and the new DMAP program provides landowners with an opportunity to have a browse severity index for their property that can help develop a plan.

“This is not a ‘more deer’ program, but seeks a balance of the number of deer and what the habitat will support,” Nack said.

• Brad Hutnik, DNR forester, said oak was once maintained on the landscape in the past by fire. As fire has been removed, the forest has changed to a maple. Currently about 3.4 million acres are in oak in the state, and it is a species valuable to many types of wildlife.

“Eighty-five percent of the oak is owned by private landowners, and no management or mismanagement will mean it will decline. Our challenge is to regenerate the stands,” Hutnik said.

“Oak regeneration is an ecological process, not an event,” he said. The number one problem limiting regeneration now is deer.

• Steve Ebert, of Base Camp Leasing, said leasing can bring in revenue, control crop damage, provide recreational opportunities for people who can’t afford to buy land, and can be used to recruit people to buy your land in the future. He suggested some standard rates, depending on location and what restrictions and opportunities are available, of $750 to $1,400 for 40 acres.

Some of the things that should be covered in a lease include defining the start and end of the lease, when payment is due, how many acres are included, the maximum number of hunters, what species can be hunted, whether hunters are allowed to camp or use ATVs, and whether the owner should be contacted prior to each visit by the hunters. He also recommended liability insurance for the property owner and the hunter.

• Kelly Kearns, DNR invasive plant coordinator, talked of the importance of controlling invasive plants such as honeysuckle, garlic mustard and buckthorn before they spread. These plants can displace native species if allowed to spread.

“To help prevent the spread of invasives, require equipment coming into the property to be cleaned off and clean your shoes and pets so that you are not spreading invasive seeds to other parts of the property,” she said.

Editor’s note: Project Coverts is held each August. For info on the free 2017 workshop contact Jamie Nack at or (608) 265-8264.

Categories: Hunting News

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