The Wildlife Management Area Habitat Enhancement Pilot Project is a cooperative project between the MWF and the Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development – Fish and Wildlife Branch. This project aims to restore up to 640 acres of wildlife habitat at each of the two WMAs within the province of Manitoba using adaptive land management techniques. Broomhill and Langruth are the two WMAs that have been selected for this pilot project and are currently undergoing the initial phase of monitoring for both wildlife and vegetation communities. Using the funding received from the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation conservation trust grant, one section from each WMA will be managed using techniques such as the mowing of woody vegetation, twice over rotational cattle grazing and prescribed burns. These methods of land management have been shown to provide an effective method in reducing woody vegetation encroachment while simultaneously enhancing native grassland habitat which ultimately results in a higher abundance of wildlife species.
Q: What WMAs are involved in the pilot project?
A: The two WMAs involved in the pilot project are the Langruth WMA and the Broomhill WMA.
Q: How much of the WMAs will be impacted by the management techniques?
A: The pilot project only consists of a total of one full section within each WMA where management activities will take place.
Q: Who is the MWF working with for this project?
A: The MWF have partnered with the Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development – Fish and Wildlife Branch for the management efforts. We have also received funding from the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporations Conservation Trust and Fish and Wildlife Enhancement Fund grants in support of this project as well as working with other independent contractors and producers.
Q: How are you evaluating the success of the project?
A: The primary method for evaluating the success of the pilot project will be through the wildlife and vegetation community assessment reports. We are currently initiating both wildlife and vegetation community surveys to establish a baseline dataset for each WMA. Because these management techniques have been used for decades across North America, the research indicates that the use of these management tools will reduce brush encroachment and promote the growth of grassland species. By reducing brush encroachment and enhancing the early successional grassland habitat, vegetation assessments should see a decrease in percent coverage of woody shrubs and an increase in grassland habitat. Early successional grassland habitat is an extremely productive habitat for a variety of wildlife species and the goal for the enhancement of grasslands within the WMAs is to ultimately see an increase in wildlife such as the sharp-tailed grouse using yearly wildlife surveys.
These assessments will be the primary tools used to determine the success of the pilot project.
Q: How do the proposed management techniques benefit wildlife?
A: Many species such as the Sharp-tailed grouse rely upon large areas of grassland for Lekking and nesting. Removing woody shrubs restoring some of the grassland habitat will provide a more productive habitat for many wildlife species.
Q: How are you addressing the issues related to cattle grazing such as soil compaction and over grazing?
A: The use of cattle as a management tool for promoting the growth of native plant species has been well documented and used for decades across North America. Research as far back as 1992 (Manske, 1992) from the North Dakota State University has shown that using a twice over rotational grazing system can not only promote the growth of native plant species but it can also increase wildlife species as a result.
This process targets native grass defoliation between the three leaf and flower stages of development (approximately June 1 – July 15th). By targeting a two-week grazing window during this period, the defoliation promotes tillering (the growth of auxiliary stems), thereby increasing the density and the nitrogen-carbon ratio in the native plant species. This two-week window is achieved through rotating cattle through an internal paddock system as per the rotational grazing plan. A second rotation occurring after July 16th then utilizes the extra biomass developed from the initial graze which will then induce the second tillering phase.
Additionally, the stocking rates for each grazing area will be determined through the vegetation community assessment report to effectively graze each paddock without the risk of soil compaction of over grazing.
Q: Will the grazing effect hunter access?
A: No, the pilot project will only occupy one section within each WMA and the management plan for cattle grazing aims to have cattle removed from the WMA before the start of the fall white-tailed deer rifle season.
Q: What wildlife stand to benefit from this project?
A: With the restoration of grassland habitat, the majority of species within the area will all benefit from the promotion of early successional habitat. With consistent disturbance grassland habitat provides excellent cover and quality of food for wildlife species such as songbirds, turkey, grouse, deer, rabbit, bear, fox, native bees and more.
Within the Langruth WMA the species of interest are Sharp-tailed grouse populations and the potential for grassland the return of songbirds as well as other species such as White-tailed deer, Woodcock and Ruffed grouse
Within the Broomhill WMA species at risk such as the Sprague’s Pipit, Chestnut-collared longspur and Barid’s sparrow all benefit from a managed grassland as well as other species such as the Sharp-tailed grouse, White-tailed deer, Gray partridge and Ruffed Grouse.
Q: Why does the habitat need to be managed?
A: In a natural environment a grassland habitat (early successional) will eventually transition into an old field, old fields into young forests and young forests into old forests. This is a natural process known as succession. However, before the prairie regions were settled the grasslands were naturally managed through the disturbance of wildfire and grazing animals such as bison. This natural disturbance is required for maintaining early successional grassland habitat. Fast forward to the present day, WMAs are now isolated pockets of wildlands surrounded by a developed and fragmented landscape. As a result of this isolation, the habitat within the WMA does not receive the same degree of disturbance necessary to maintain a grassland habitat and before long brush and aspen stands encroach, smothering out the early successional landscape many native species depend upon.
While this process is “natural” in a sense, the isolated state of these environments is not natural and therefore the succession process has been expedited in an otherwise unnatural way without any management or disturbance. By mimicking these natural forms of management (i.e., wildfires and grazing), we can begin to restore the habitat back to a healthy grassland community for native wildlife species.
Q: Who will this project benefit?
A: This project will benefit all members of the public who visit WMAs whether it be through increased hunting wildlife viewing opportunities. It also benefits those interested in the conservation of species at risk in Manitoba.
Q: Is the fire in the video a prescribed burn on one of the WMAs?
A: No, the video of the fire was taken from a wildfire near the Big Grass Marsh Game Bird Refuge during the initial Lek survey visit to Langruth in April. We just happened to be there and were able to document it as well as the vegetation regrowth a few weeks later. The fire was a few kilometers southwest from the Langruth WMA.