Key to Life
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While humans generally think of the great outdoors as a place to seek recreation and scenic beauty, those outdoor places mean much more than that to wildlife.
The white-tailed deer, for example, must live in the outdoors from the moment of birth until death, in all seasons and elements. It must sleep and play outdoors, find food and water, and have places for hiding and protection. And, it must find those things reasonably close to each other in order to remain in good health.
Although the kinds of vegetation differ somewhat for other wildlife creatures, the problems and requirements are the same. It is easy to see that certain types of vegetation are far superior to others. Some provide food for dozens of different species plus providing some protection. Some plants are virtually useless, and still others may provide that one critical need for one or more species. Because of these considerations, the planting of "odd areas" as plots for wildlife, can be highly beneficial.
Where the cover is and its relationship with other vegetation is perhaps of major importance. A grouping of several types of vegetation in one area-food, roosting and loafing areas and travel lanes between them, fulfill the humble needs for all species. Birds, such as pheasants, can travel farther because they fly. Earthbound species must walk, so distance is more of a factor-especially if the animal is required to cross roads or open areas. Man, vehicles, dogs and other hazards all take a toll during the year, so quality of habitat is critical. Basically, habitat has four essentials - living space, food, water and cover.
In Nebraska, there is plenty of living space. Food is also generally available; from man's crops, nature's plants, plus insects. Water, too, is generally available in several forms, and so we can deduce that the item in short supply is cover. This component will be discussed at length, including the many considerations of cover types and wildlife needs.
Plants can be grouped into woody (trees and shrubs), herbaceous (grasses, forbs and legumes), and aquatic (those of marsh and water).
Each is used by wildlife, with the value determined by the amount location and relationship with other plants. A woodlot that happens to be adjacent to cropland and with weeds and other rank growth nearby might well be ideal habitat. Seldom does this just happen, however. More often, mile upon mile of row crops have squeezed out all bird nesting and roosting cover, and even ditches have been denuded of vegetation for one reason or another. In such cases, there is no habitat, and there can be no wildlife. Nothing can live well or long in such an environment.
Nearly everyone acknowledges that wildlife is desirable. The presence of wild creatures enhances the very character of the land, reflects its quality to a very great extent, enriches and entertains the people, and serves beneficial uses.
Yet, despite the many advantages of wildlife, most people find it easier to ignore their plight. Except for a very few dedicated people, all benefits to the wildlife species come as coincidence from some program or other. Leaving some cover crop on over the winter to hold soil and snow also may help wildlife. Reducing the excess applications of chemicals saves money, and also aids wildlife.
Conversely, what is usually bad for the land is bad for wildlife, and there are plenty of such examples around.
Monoculture has been called the answer of modern agriculture to the economic plight of farmers. It has advantages, but there are drawbacks, as well. Vast expanses of corn, wheat or milo mean little if any diversity in a region. Disease and pests of that crop have "field" days, and wildlife has "bread" but no board, room but no lodging. This plethora of foodstuffs actually chokes out wildlife.