Clayton Lutz, a diversity biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, told the crowd gathered at the Riggle's Gap Sportsmen's Club Landowner's Appreciation dinner recently that Smokey the Bear has been quite successful at educating the public about accidentally setting wildfires on woodlands.
"Of course, no one wants to see wildfires actually going wild and destroying homes and businesses like we see in some areas each year. But some burning of forest habitat is very successful at helping to restore habitat that is depleted," Lutz explained, "and so the Game Commission has plans to do prescribed burns on about 4,500 acres of land this year."
Habitat improvement and enhancement projects are vital, in fact essential, to the healthy production of foods and browse that will feed wildlife as well as provide clean water and cover for shelter to various kinds of wildlife.
Part of the reason why some hunters complain that they used to see 30 deer every day when they hunted 30 years ago is because the second-growth vegetation that supported that healthy deer populations has now grown to 50 feet high, its leafy canopy now blocking out most of the sunlight, so nothing is growing on the forest floor.
Where there is no food, there are no deer. Or turkey, or grouse or pheasants or even songbirds.
Many sportsmen's clubs - including Riggles Gap - cooperate with the Game Commission on enhancing their land with proper plantings, fertilizing, pruning, fencing and what ever else will promote new growth for wildlife. Many conservation organizations, such as the National Wild Turkey Federation with is local chapters, The Ruffed Grouse Society, Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited and many others, spend a lot of money and time enhancing wildlife habitat.
That's why it is such a good ideal to support the fund-raising banquets these organizations hold each year: Most of the money raised is put into habitat projects and/or public education projects, for gun safety and for youth projects.
Lutz works mainly with private landowners who want to maintain at least some of their land for wildlife and want to know the most efficient ways to go about it, although he works on State Gamelands too. Lutz explained that 80 percent of the land in Pennsylvania is privately owned so it is vital to have as much of it managed for wildlife as possible.
"After all," Lutz said, "the best thing we can do for wildlife is to manage them before they are put on the endangered species list. It's a lot harder to get them back once they are gone than it is to some proper things to take care of them before they disappear. "
Proper management has other facets - just what kind of trees to plant and what to spray them with, for example. There are invasive plant species that should be eradicated because they will take over your property and destroy it before you realize what has happened.
And plant diseases that can destroy certain species such as the woolly adelgid, which is attacking our state trees - the hemlock - all over the commonwealth.
So if you are a landowner who wants to manage some, or all, of your and for wildlife's benefit, Lutz will come to your land and do a walk-over with the landowner and assess what needs done and help a landowner draw up good, efficient plans for managing his land. Lutz can put you in touch with groups that can provide help with funding or materials and assorted other necessities.
Contact Lutz at 717-667-4293 or email CLLUTZ@State.PA.US. He's a young, energetic fellow who will be a great help to your wildlife enhancement plans.