Wildlife Habitat Improvement
& Shrub Planting
wildlife in your backyard can be very enjoyable. You will probably
see some kind of wildlife whether you consciously do anything to attract
it or not. This article will give some suggestions about how to improve
habitat for wildlife on your land.
habitat includes the four basic components of food, cover (or shelter),
water, and space. Improvements to habitat can involve water, but water
is usually difficult to provide if it is not already there. We can
not make more space, but space can be preserved for wildlife by setting
aside land that will not be used for other purposes. One way to do
this is through conservation easements. For information on conservation
easements, call the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Most habitat improvements
will include plants that provide food and cover for certain wild animals.
kind of improvements you implement will be determined by several factors;
The size of your property; availability of water; the kind of wildlife
you want to attract; the current condition of the land; your budget;
and the amount of time you are willing to spend. All of these factors
should be considered when making a conservation plan for your property
or planning a single habitat improvement project.
beginning a project, think about how your project will complement
the existing ecosystem. It is best to improve habitat for wildlife
that lives near you, rather than trying to attract animals that do
not use the habitat types that are found in the area. Trying to force
plants to grow that are not suited to the climate or soil of your
area would be inefficient at best, and might be a complete waste of
improvement does not have to be complicated or time-consuming. You
can do things as simple as turning off outdoor lights, or limiting
the use of them, to reduce disturbance to wild animals. You will probably
be doing some landscaping anyway, so choosing native plants for your
landscaping will take little extra time and the value to wildlife
will be substantially better than that of nonnative plants.
first thing that many people think of when hear the word "habitat"
is trees. But planting trees is not the only activity that benefits
wildlife. Grass seeding, wetland preservation or improvement, and
riparian fencing projects are some other practices that can provide
high quality wildlife habitat. Sometimes the best thing for wildlife
is to leave the land as it is and be sure to control any noxious weeds
of what kind of project you are putting in, you should always use
native species of plants that are found in Colorado. Nonnative
species are not as good for Colorado’s native wildlife species. Nonnative
plants also have the potential for growing out of control and creating
a monoculture, replacing the variety of plants that normally grow
with just one kind of plant.
can provide a home to many different types of wildlife. They can provide
shelter from the wind and the sun for livestock and for your house.
If you plant a variety of native tree species, you may improve the
biodiversity of your neighborhood.
vegetation in eastern Colorado is predominantly cottonwood-willow
associations in riparian zones along streams. This habitat type is
used by most wildlife species that live on the plains. If a stream
with a sufficiently high water table runs through your property, you
might not have to plant anything. Fencing off areas to prevent or
reduce livestock grazing will most likely allow cottonwood trees,
willows, and other shrubs to grow naturally. If your riparian habitat
is degraded and lacking vegetation, you can get it started by planting
a buffer of native grasses and shrubs. This will provide bank stabilization
as well as wildlife habitat.
you are planting a windbreak or shrub thicket, the best time to plant
trees is early fall. The next best time of year is late winter or
early spring. If you choose trees and shrubs that bloom and bear fruit
and nuts at different times of the year, you will have a good opportunity
to view a variety of animals. A weed barrier will help early growth
by preventing weeds from growing. This will allow more moisture to
be used by the desired plants. Some good species to plant include
chokecherry, American plum, sumac, serviceberry, currant, skunkbush,
fourwing saltbush, snowberry, common juniper, and cottonwood. Species
to avoid are Russian olive and tamarisk (saltcedar), which are nonnative
invasive plants that have detrimental impacts on native wildlife.
Contact the Division of Wildlife or the Natural Resources Conservation
Service (NRCS) to find out what will grow best on your property.
animals need water to survive. Some get all the water they need from
their food, but most need to drink at least some of their water. Installing
a pond is a good way to attract a variety of wildlife species, from
shorebirds and waterfowl to amphibians and large or small mammals.
Ponds may be built by constructing a dam to catch runoff or by using
an artificial water supply. Ponds can vary in size. If landscaping
around the pond is suitable, aquatic and semiaquatic plants may become
established without planting. You can also use submerged pots of water
lilies, iris, spikerush, and other native plants. Native species are
strongly recommended over non-natives. If you have a pond for watering
livestock, consider fencing off part of the pond to allow aquatic
vegetation to grow while letting the livestock use the other end of
a wetland can provide habitat for wildlife while helping prevent flooding
and pollution of neighboring creeks. Any depression that collects
runoff is a potential spot to establish a wetland. Partially blocking
an existing drainage way or digging a shallow basin may be all you
need to do if you have clay soil that naturally holds water. You could
also bury a plastic liner in a shallow depression to help it stay
wet most of the time. It does not have to stay wet all year to be
beneficial to wildlife.
provide food and cover for many of the wildlife species found in eastern
Colorado. Ground-nesting birds, foxes, pronghorn, hawks, owls, and
mule deer are some of the animals that can benefit from a grass-seeding
while the ground is thawed, but between November 1 and April 30. Plant
a cover crop the spring before seeding the grass. The cover crop will
reduce erosion, conserve moisture, and suppress weed competition.
Use forage sorghum, long-season milo, forage millet, oats, or other
varieties. Sterile varieties are best since they will not provide
a viable seed that can compete with the grass the following year.
Cut the cover crop down to 6"-8" high in the fall and seed
grass directly into the stubble. Control weeds prior to seeding. A
firm seedbed is necessary for warm season grasses. Freshly disked
or rototilled ground should not be planted until it settles from snowpack
a mix: Pick a good seed mix that is appropriate for your soil and
planned use. Cool season grasses begin growing in the spring earlier
than warm season grasses. If you plant more than a very small percentage
of them (10% or less) they will outcompete the warm season grasses
in your mix. Therefore, you should avoid brome and wheatgrass for
the most part. Smooth brome and crested wheatgrass are two of the
worst grasses to use since they aggressively outcompete the warm season
grasses and have poor wildlife qualities. The warm season native mixes
will not look good until the second or third year. It takes them some
time to get established. During the first season, the grass is putting
its growth into the roots. The top will grow in subsequent years.
If you do not adequately control weeds prior to planting, these grasses
will take three to four years to establish. Contact the Division of
Wildlife or the NRCS to get more information on seeding techniques
and seed mixes.
that you have an idea of what kind of projects you can implement,
you might want more detailed information or some help with funding.
You might be eligible for one of several cost share programs that
provide funding for wildlife habitat. The United States Fish and Wildlife
Service provides funds through Partners for Wildlife. The Division
of Wildlife has funds available through the Colorado Habitat Improvement
Program (CHIP). The NRCS has two cost-share programs, the Wildlife
Habitat Improvement Program (WHIP) and the Wetlands Reserve Program
(WRP). The numbers for these agencies are listed below if you wish
to inquire about any of these programs.
Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)
Division of Wildlife
States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) 303-236-7400
Brothers Seed (Greeley)
Valley Seed Co. (Denver)
Seed Co. (Arvada)
- A Manual for Success, 2nd Edition
information on this and many other Small Acreage topics are now available
- A Manual for Success, 2nd Edition
a copy of this book please contact the Adams County Small Acreage Coordinator