The complex art and science of wildlife management is rooted in the foundations of balancing the needs of wildlife and people. At WEA, we understand that the term “management” clearly implies the application ecological knowledge and human manipulation to meet various goals and objectives that are bound by the ethics of conservation. Successful wildlife management strategies generally include passive (habitat) and/or active (population) techniques. By understanding the needs of clients, our staff can customize and implement management plans that meet financial, recreation, aesthetic, and conservation goals. For example, when the abundance and/or distribution of wildlife poses a significant risk to the human health and safety, WEA biologists provide quantitative analysis of the risk and mitigation strategies to reduce that risk.
The management of habitats is often the most critical component of success in wildlife management. This passive, or indirect, management of the target species through habitat modifications is important because the species’ habitat provides all the resources needed to survive: food, water, cover, and space. Through proper habitat management planning and implementation WEA helps our clients manage wildlife populations using the most current ecological knowledge and innovative technologies.
Habitat Surveys and Assessments
Our staff of ecologists and biologists provide quantitative and qualitative habitat assessments to meet a variety of conservation, hunting, research, and/or regulatory objectives. We are capable designing and implementing habitat surveys within various strata and microhabitats of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. For example, our biologists and ecologists have experience includes:
Additionally, in partnership with our parent company Southern Forestry Consultants, we provide expert timber inventory and appraisal services for forest landowners with financial objectives.
Habitat Management Planning
When developing any management plan, WEA focuses on the objectives and constraints of our clients. With an adequate knowledge of the existing and desired habitat conditions for each location, WEA ecologists can select the proper habitat management techniques required. Habitat management techniques that promote and enhance native plant growth are an integral part of our management strategies. WEA has extensive experience providing intensive and landscape-level habitat plans for both game (e.g., white-tailed deer, waterfowl, turkey, quail, small game) and non-game (e.g., songbirds, raptors, rare species) habitat. As with all management plans produced at WEA, our habitat management plans include a feedback loop which allows each plan to be flexible and adaptive to changing constraints and objectives.
Habitat Management Implementation
The implementation of habitat (passive) management techniques, whether part of a management plan or stand-alone events, requires both knowledge of the most current research and management practices and experience with land management tools and techniques. WEA offers an array of habitat management services that can meet the objectives of our clients including enhancement, mitigation, restoration, biodiversity, conservation, and revenue generation.
Agronomic Services and Technology
The experienced staff of WEA uses the latest technology as well as the most proven products and techniques to enhance wildlife habitat through the use of agronomic technology. These services include the establishment of native plant communities and the control of nuisance and invasive species.
Coastal Dune Design and Enhancement
WEA ecologists have experience and expertise in the design, installation, and oversight of coastal dune construction and native vegetation enhancement. In areas where landowners have extensive existing sea oat habitats, we can develop partnerships to allow native plant producers and nurseries to collect sea oats seeds in exchange for native coastal plants for landscaping and restoration.
Native Warm Season Grass Establishment and Management
Native warm season grasses (NWSGs) are deep-rooted indigenous C4 type grasses that grow during the warm months of the year. C4 grasses have a higher photosynthetic potential than C3 cool season grasses and can withstand harsher environmental conditions, such as drought, carbon dioxide limitations, soil nitrogen deficiencies and, as the name implies, high temperatures. Indigenous NWSGs are common species in numerous ecosystems throughout the US. NWSGs provide many benefits to wildlife, including forage, bedding, nesting, escape, and protective cover; increased insect populations; and increased seed production.
For example, the southern longleaf pine ecosystem has been reduced to remnants of its original range through human-induce habitat loss, conversion, and degradation. Southern US NWSG species are an integral part of this ecosystem, providing contiguous fuels necessary to carry fire in this fire-adapted ecosystem. NWSGs also provide seed and insect sources necessary for game bird species, like quail and turkey, and non-game song birds, such as blue grosbeak, indigo bunting, yellow breasted chat, and the eastern meadowlark.
NWSGs can also be grazed and hayed for livestock production and crude protein can reach 16 - 17%, although 8 - 12 % is the norm during optimum harvest conditions. Proper species selection and small changes in hay cutting or grazing pattern changes can allow livestock and wildlife to mutually exist, benefit, and thrive from NWSG plantings. Silvipasture systems in many cases present perfect opportunities to incorporate NWSG plantings into operations seeking to optimize timber, wildlife, and livestock production.
NWSG establishment can be slow and usually takes approximately two years. Once established, various management techniques consisting of prescribed burning, disking, mowing, herbicide applications, or some combination thereof, will be necessary to maintain these productive deep rooted grasses. WEA staff provides experienced and proficient staff to manage or establish NSWG on our customers land.
Nuisance and Invasive Species Management
The recognition and acknowledgement of the extent and impact of invasive plants in native ecosystems is relatively recent. The fact that seeds and plant parts are frequently and easily spread through development activities increases the threats associated with these species. WEA ecologists have extensive experience identifying, controlling, and eradicating nuisance and invasive species for terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Depending on the size and intensity of the infestation and surrounding environments, various methodologies that can be employed independently or in conjunction with other methods include:
WEA staff can also develop short- and long-term site specific plans for controlling existing infestations, and developing best management practices (BMPs) for preventing the spread or introduction of these species.
Supplemental Wildlife Feeding
Many landowners and hunters consider supplemental feeding an important factor in deer management and a source of nutrition when native forage is inadequate either in quantity or quality. However, supplemental feeding should not be considered an alternative to proper habitat management. By nature of its namesake, such feedings should be considered strictly – supplemental.
Supplementing native forage can occur two ways: food plots and direct feeding. The goal for a supplemental feeding program is to provide enough high quality forage for the deer herd to meet its nutritional needs.
Food Plot Design, Installation, Planting, and Management
WEA has extensive experience in food plot design, creation, and management. Food plots can be an important part of a wildlife management program. Successful food plots are those that benefit wildlife by providing preferred, highly nutritious, supplemental forage at times of the year when wildlife need them the most. Crop diversity will allow food plots to benefit target species when they need it the most. It is important that both spring and fall plantings are used to gain full benefit from your food plot program. WEA biologists can also assist with establishing woody browse, fruit and mast producing trees to increase the available food for deer.
Supplemental Direct Feeding and Mineral Programs
WEA recommends the use of direct feeding and mineral supplementation measures only after habitat and population management has occurred. The direct feedings are therefore by definition, supplemental to habitat and population management. While generally not needed in southern environments, some landowners desire to provide deer populations additional carbohydrates and proteins during the winter. Prior to establishing a direct feeding program the following drawbacks should be considered and addressed:
While research indicates that age and nutrition are the most significant factors in deer size and antler development, mineral supplementation may be beneficial in some locations. Some areas are naturally limited in soil mineral content and therefore, nutritional content available to deer. Sodium, calcium, and phosphorus deficiencies in soil can lead to diminished body and antler growth in deer. In these situations the use of mineral licks and supplement programs should be evaluated during the spring through fall seasons.
WEA staff has years of experience working with forest landowners to provide forest management solutions, including a Registered Forester on staff. Additionally, the parent company of WEA, Southern Forestry Consultants (SFC), focuses primarily of forest and timber management for clients across the southeastern US. This relationship allows WEA to provide our clients with a wealth of expertise and experience from one of the leading forestry consultants in the southeast. Specific forest management expertise offered by WEA and SFC includes:
The application of directed herbicides can significantly modify the species composition on a site due to the species-specific impacts of various herbicides. Modern herbicides are developed and labeled for application in both terrestrial and aquatic habitats. WEA staff are experienced, licensed, and capable of selecting and applying the appropriate herbicide to meet the goals of each project. For instance, the application of herbicides to control hardwood species within planted and native pine stands can increase financial returns on the pine trees and herbaceous groundcover for wildlife species. Other herbicides are also instrumental in the control and eradication of nuisance and invasive species. WEA ecologists provide herbicide application experience using aerial, manual, and mechanical techniques.
Manual and Mechanical Enhancements
WEA provides manual and mechanical habitat enhancements for our clients. These enhancement methods can be used for forest management and site preparation, pasture management, wildlife habitat management, and mitigation site creation, enhancement, or restoration. We often perform these services in partnership with our parent company, Southern Forestry Consultants, who provide manual and mechanical enhancements for thousands of acres across the southeast. Applied habitat manipulation methods include:
Numerous ecosystems have adapted over time to the frequent fires resulting from lightning strikes and Native American land management practices. As our populations have grown and cities expanded, wildfires have been reduced and extinguished. However, the native plant and animal species that adapted over time with fire, still require fire to provide the habitat conditions they need. These fire-adapted ecosystems now require maintenance through the application of prescribed fires. The use of prescribed fire in mitigation and restoration objectives seeks to enhance and promote the natural ecosystem process.
Prescribed burning provides numerous ecosystem benefits: it protects overstory trees from devastating wildfires, controls midstory competition that competes for sunlight, nutrients and water, and promotes herbaceous understory, which is beneficial to many types of wildlife. At WEA, our ecologists and foresters time prescribed burns to improve wildlife habitats, including those needed to support a number of rare species including flatwoods salamanders, gopher tortoises, and red-cockaded woodpeckers. Timely prescribed burns can promote native warm season grasses, control diseases like brown spot needle blight in longleaf pine seedlings, and expedite nutrient recycling which is beneficial to tree growth.
The application and timing of prescribed burning can also be used to meet forest revenue goals by increasing target species growth through hardwood reduction, controlling the timing of large nutrient influxes into the soil (which can produce results similar to a light fertilizer application), and implementing rotational burning strategies over a period of years to reduce future reforestation costs. Light prescribed burns can also improve access within a stand (for hunting and other recreational uses), reduce wildfire risk, and enhance aesthetic values by creating a more appealing, managed, and open park-like appearance. Recent research indicates managed tracts receive higher land and timber prices than those that are unmanaged.
WEA staff are Certified Prescribed Burners and have completed training at the state and federal levels. Through our parent company, Southern Forestry Consultants, we burn thousands of acres a year across the Southeast. We have experience with prescribed burning in both urban and rural settings and can design or implement prescribed fire programs for a variety of market sectors. We also have experience with fire management strategies in residential areas that mitigate and reduce wildfire risk.
Riparian Area Management
Riparian area buffer management is a critical component of many wetland and stream mitigation projects and forestry Best Management Practices (BMPs). Riparian area management provides numerous beneficial impacts to the streams and surrounding habitat including reduced erosion, turbidity control, nutrient and pollutant loading controls, water temperature and dissolved oxygen stabilization, increased wildlife habitat, and consistent vegetation inputs into streams for nutrients and energy. WEA offers not only the design and implementation of BMPs to protect and enhance these areas, but also the review and audit of firms existing BMPs.
Wildlife Population Management
The second major component to wildlife management, is the direct and active management of the species populations. Using quantitative and qualitative methodologies, WEA can determine existing population sizes and metrics, develop plans for the management of each species to client objectives, and provide strategies for managing the wildlife resource in the future.
Population Surveys and Assessments
Before an intensive wildlife management program can be initiated the manager needs to know the existing or baseline population. Wiregrass Ecological Associates conducts wildlife population evaluations using the biological sampling methods, harvest data analysis, current camera technology, and other widely accepted techniques. For example, WEA can direct turkey brood surveys, fall bobwhite quail covey counts, and deer spotlight counts. WEA also specializes in non-game population surveys including gopher tortoise surveys, small-mammal trapping, various herptofauna population surveys, anuran call surveys, and bird point counts. Specific population demographic data can also be useful depending on research or management objectives. For instance, in white-tailed deer populations, it is important to know more specific information about your deer herd such as buck : doe ratio, fawn recruitment, and age structure. This data is essential if quality deer management (QDM) is an objective.
Harvest Data Analysis
Collecting and analyzing harvest data is a key component to developing a comprehensive population management strategy. However, instructing and convincing hunting clubs to adopt harvest data collection strategies is often difficult. WEA can work with clubs to ensure that the proper methods are used and data is collected by club members. WEA can then analyze the harvest data and provide management recommendations based upon the goals and objectives of each club.
Population Management Plans
When developing any management plan, WEA focuses on the objectives and constraints of our clients. WEA biologists are capable of developing wildlife game management plans for white-tailed deer, turkey, dove, quail, waterfowl, and numerous small game species. Our staff also has extensive experience developing and implementing conservation-based management plans for a variety of non-game and rare species. WEA often incorporates revenue generation, habitat management, and recreational opportunity considerations into the customized plans our clients request. For example, our clients’ goals for white-tailed deer population plans might range from trophy-buck and Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) standards to creating opportunities to see the most deer possible for aesthetic reasons. As with all management plans produced at WEA, our population management plans include a feedback loop which allows each plan to be flexible and adaptive to changing constraints and objectives.
Recreational Lease Management
Many landowners seek to maximize revenue on their holdings through the management of multiple streams of revenue. A major source of supplemental (or primary) revenue for many landowners is through recreational leases. Recreational leases most often include hunting and fishing opportunities, but can also provide opportunities for non-consumptive recreation activities like camping, ATV and horseback riding, hiking, and birdwatching. Some areas might be eligible for state and federal programs, which can increase attractiveness (i.e., value) through the ability to perform wildlife management activities on the lease. In addition to revenue, many recreational lessees provide access control and minimize illegal trespass issues, inform landowners immediately of issues that arise (e.g., arson, illegal harvests, trash dumping, bug spots, criminal activities), take pride and ownership in their lease, and promote a positive stewardship message to others in the community.
The complementary nature of recreational leases and many forest and land management plans can provide substantial annual profit to landowners over extended periods. Forestland in particular provides significant opportunities for landowners to establish high-quality recreational lease without compromising the value of timber and non-timber assets. WEA provides years of extensive experience in the administration and management of recreational leases, including proven methods for maximizing revenues and profits. We understand that an effective leasing program must be customer focused and revenue driven. This experience includes administering individual leases for a single landowner or an entire hunting club lease program across multiple states and ecoregions.
WEA can evaluate recreational leasing opportunities within any size landbase. Administering individual leases or an entire leasing program is also a service offered by WEA. We can develop an Internet-based system for your outdoor recreation business such that current customers can administer their leases on-line. Potential customers can find available leases, view location maps, and bid or apply for a new lease on-line.
Communication with the lessees is imperative to a successful leasing program. A lessee or hunting club that feels informed becomes increasingly more loyal to the particular tract of land. This can be accomplished by hunting club dinners, Q&A sessions, food plot seed giveaways, newsletters, specific lease information (i.e. notifications of herbicide applications, harvest and thinning operations, site preparation activities, planting schedules, etc.). The relationships that are developed with the clubs, adjacent landowners, and law enforcement officers often work to preempt liability issues that might arise.
WEA also excels in the development of comprehensive pricing models and long-term pricing strategies for recreational leases. We work with landowners to develop a transparent value scoring system based on lease specifics and amenities to determine each minimum lease price. Through the segmentation of leases in this manner, landowners can utilize the value the market is willing to bear for each individual lease. These plans are customizable to each client and can include provisions for liability insurance, non-consumptive uses, and alternative incomes.
WEA provides a suite wildlife habitat and population management services for hunting clubs. Through site visits, meetings, and phone consultations, WEA biologists can assist clubs with these game management issues and alleviate landowners of the headaches often associated with managing a leasing program.
Additionally, WEA can assist landowners with developing partnerships with various conservation/hunting organizations (e.g., the Nature Conservancy, Mossy Oak, Quality Deer Management Association, National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, state natural heritage associations, etc.) to provide additional value to the lease program through products and management assistance. These partnerships also often provide landowners exposure and positive public perception while maintaining a "social license" for operations.
The key component to leasing land is understanding the status and maturity of the lease market. Establishing accurate recreation and hunting lease prices for a tract of land is often difficult, but always crucial to the success of any outdoor recreation program. Prices that are too high result in lands not being leased and prices too low equate to lost economic opportunity for the landowner. Some areas may be more receptive to lease rate increases or show an increased demand for high-quality and large acreage leases. WEA's experience conducting lease market surveys, customer demographic studies, and structuring leasing programs to take advantage of this information is a valuable service that has been extensively used by clients.
A major challenge facing many hunting clubs is the ability to manage their deer herd on a relatively small acreage. WEA has coordinated the formation of hunting club cooperatives which offer a collaborative mechanism to solve this problem. Cooperatives are comprised of numerous smaller clubs that together have the ability to manage and control a significant acreage of contiguous land. These individual clubs use the same harvest strategy (i.e. protecting young bucks) across the entire ownership or leased area to meet mutual management goals. This often alleviates the fear expressed by many club members that “if I let that young buck walk, the neighboring club will shoot it.” Hunting club cooperatives have been developed across the south and are reaping the benefits of their cooperative efforts. WEA can work on behalf of an individual or multiple clubs and landowners to foster productive working and collaborative relationships that meet mutually beneficial goals.
Hunting club seminars are designed to “give” something back to your outdoor recreation customers. These seminars normally involve educational presentations, (i.e., food plots, quality deer management, multi-species management, etc.) a question and answer session, and a meal. We often provide a guest speaker from the local game and fish department or conservation department. This meeting can also be timed and associated with food plot seed giveaways. They are an excellent way to build ctrust through communication and have informal discussions with club members in a relaxed setting.
Wildlife Hazard Risk Mitigation
Wildlife strikes with aircraft have been occurring since the invention of the airplane and pose a significant threat to the operation and function of both aircraft and airports. On January 15, 2009 the emergency forced landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River brought significant media and public attention to the threat of wildlife strikes to aircraft. The ingestion of migratory Canada geese into both engines of the Airbus 320 drew national attention upon the dangerous, yet manageable, risks associated with wildlife strikes. These strikes can result in not only financial impacts from aircraft damage and downtime, but also human injuries and death. Therefore, the FAA now requires all Part-139 airports to complete a Wildlife Hazard Assessment (WHA) and encourages the completion from all general aviation airports. WEA staff has experience evaluating and mitigating these hazards for airports under the direction of our Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) qualified airport wildlife biologist (QAWB). More specifically, WEA provides the following services:
Wildlife Hazard Assessments (WHA)
Pursuant to Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 14 Part 139.337, airports “must take immediate action to alleviate wildlife hazards whenever they are detected” and “ensure that a wildlife hazard assessment is conducted when” such triggering events occur. As deﬁned by 14 CFR Part 133.337c and FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 150/5200-36A, a WHA must conducted by a “FAA qualiﬁed airport wildlife biologist (QAWB).”
A WHA is an ecological and scientific study acceptable to the FAA for the evaluation of potential wildlife hazard risk to aircraft and recommendations to mitigate that risk. Based on the findings of the WHA, best management practices (BMPs) are recommend to mitigate the occurrence and severity of wildlife strikes, including the development or update of a Wildlife Hazard Management Plan (WHMP). WEA has the qualifications, experience and expertise to design and complete a WHA on any-size airport that meets the standards established by the FAA.
Wildlife Hazard Management Plans (WHMP)
A WHMP provides the foundation for each airport to address wildlife hazards based on the most recent information available. Using the results of a WHA, the WHMP addresses the airport specific actions required to mitigate the risk of wildlife strikes on or near the airport. WEA insures this operational guide should be developed and integrated with other operational guidelines and plans specific to each airport. WEA considers the review and update of WHMP most effective when an adaptive management approach is utilized.
Airport staff that perform wildlife harassment and abatement measures to mitigate the risk of strikes require recurrent annual training. WEA offers this training to meet FAA standards and address safety, techniques for pyrotechnic use, review and updates to the WHMP, and adaptive management techniques.