Home on the Range Is for Wildlife Too
Written by Rachel Frost and Jeff Mosley, Montana State University
A pronghorn antelope on rangeland.
Rangelands provide a home for many kinds of animals, including mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and fish. An effective management plan will consider the resident and neighboring wildlife when selecting range management and/or improvement practices. Different kinds of wildlife have different forage and habitat requirements, and these often change seasonally. Identifying the wildlife species present within any management unit — small property to large grazing allotment — and their specific habitat requirements is one of the first steps toward developing a management plan. The next challenge is to attempt to balance and meet the needs of the different species, including their interactions with many different land uses.
Habitat Management and Improvement
Rangeland managers have several tools they can use to improve wildlife habitat.
Grazing Systems — A well-designed grazing system that considers the forage and habitat needs of both the livestock and wildlife species will protect and/or improve the vegetation, soil, and water resources on rangelands. Additionally, targeted grazing with livestock can be used to increase or decrease the abundance, size, or distribution of certain plants or plant communities to benefit one or more species of wildlife.
Water — Wildlife need free access to reliable sources of water of sufficient quality all year to have viable populations. Maintaining existing water developments, even when livestock are absent from a pasture, is important to wildlife. Water sources also can be created solely for wildlife.
Revegetation — Reseeding disturbed rangelands or overseeding existing vegetation is an excellent opportunity to improve range conditions for wildlife, provided some of the seeded species benefit the wildlife.
Brush Management — On many rangelands, the amount of brush can become excessive and reduce the area's habitat value for many wildlife species. Reducing the amount of brush can improve wildlife habitat, provided it is carefully planned and implemented. Brush management may include the complete removal of shrubs from some areas, reductions of shrub density in other areas, or a combination of the two approaches. A common management goal is to increase the amount of edge between areas with more shrubs and perennial grasses from those with fewer shrubs and more grasses. Often this approach benefits wildlife because they feed in one type of plant community — predominately grasses — and seek cover in another — shrubs. The specific approach will depend upon the management goal and objectives for the targeted wildlife species.
Properly managed rangelands are essential to maintain healthy, viable wildlife populations. Wildlife can survive and thrive alongside livestock if the needs of the wildlife are included in the management plan.