One of the big stumbling blocks for landowners considering wildlife habitat enhancement projects is the cost. Quality land improvements cost money, sometimes a lot of it. I have often had landowners ask me to “rehab” a pasture or install a food plot only to change their minds when they see the cost estimate. One old timer who was having a timber sale asked me to install forage on his old pasture. There was plenty of money from the timber sale to do the job right with herbicide, lime, site prep and plant. The job would have cost over $2,000 in materials and tractor time. He recoiled at the cost and left the pasture in rank grass. This was a lost opportunity at creating a huge draw for deer from all around as his was the only forest opening in the area, located in a hidden valley up on a ridge. He would have had all the deer from two square miles feeding on his hunting property if I just could have convinced him to do the job. I hate to see a tract of land with that potential go to waste. If cost is preventing you from going ahead with making habitat improvements on your land, there are ways of generating money to get it done.
The best source of funding is from a timber sale. Timber harvesting is quite often appropriate for any land I examine. Much of the time, the harvest recommendation is pre-commercial or pulpwood-only harvesting, which doesn’t generate much cash. But, sometimes we can mark some quality sawtimber provided there is plenty of seed source trees to generate income that can be put back into the land.
Another source is government programs. Our bloated government is rife with agencies, all with an agenda and a large flow of taxpayer money to spend. They have come up with many well-funded programs that landowners can take advantage of. I will describe some programs to illustrate what is available to help you get some work done on your property.
Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP)
This program is administered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). It is a cost share agreement that provides 75% of the cost of twenty wildlife habitat improvement practices. A committee decides which of these practices has priority for the limited funds available to each state. In my home state of Pennsylvania, the NRCS uses the state forestry department to do the field inspections and paperwork. The area DCNR service forester works with the landowner and contractor to decide what work will be done, what the cost share will be and inspects and approves the work. There are guidelines to what they consider appropriate costs for each activity. For instance, a food plot or a warm season grass planting is broken down into site prep, herbicide application, planting and mowing. Each stage of the process has an expected cost associated with it, and the program will pay the landowner 75% of that cost. This is the best program for the work I do, since the qualified activities are so numerous. I can do TSI or timber stand improvement cutting, forest herbicide application, tree and shrub planting, deer exclusion fencing, food plot establishment and warm season grass establishment. A landowner can receive up to $50,000 for these projects. The money come from the Farm Bill and is funded at $85 million dollars a year. Availability can be sporadic, however, since the money is sometimes diverted to things like fire fighting in California. When funds are limited, they look for landowners who have not received any funding in the past. You don’t need a forest management plan, but I find it helps show your commitment and can tip the odds in your favor if you have one.
What sets this program apart is that the land does not have to be a farm or commercial timberland. Any non-commercial private fores