Discovering wildlife can be fun

By Jim Freeman - In The Open

We here in southeastern Ohio seem to have a love/hate relationship with wildlife; while some people enjoy seeing wildlife, others think there are too many animals. An important part of a wildlife specialist’s job is to help the latter people, mostly farmers, with wildlife-related complaints.

However, some people just can’t seem to get enough wildlife. We are here to help them, too!

I have addressed crop damage many times in the past, so this time I’m taking a 180-degree turn and discussing attracting wildlife to your property. There are many reasons people give for wanting to attract wildlife: some people want more wildlife for hunting, others just enjoy watching critters. The reasons people want wildlife really don’t matter, a lot of the basics are the same.

First of all, you need to realize that all wildlife needs four things, food, water, shelter and space in a suitable arrangement, in order to survive; that’s the habitat the animals live in. If these things are not present, the wildlife will not be present. Realize, too, all of these components do not necessarily have to be found on your property; animals don’t care about property lines and boundaries. Look at the wildlife on a landscape scale. Include all of the different habitats (woods, streams, ponds, cropland, wetlands, grasslands, and old fields) that are within a one-mile radius of your property. Your land is essentially just one piece of a 2,000-acre puzzle.

The quality and quantity of habitat determine the “carrying capacity” of the land – that’s how much wildlife the land will support. This is very important – understanding the concept of carrying capacity is crucial in wildlife management: wildlife cannot be stockpiled, if you exceed the carrying capacity you will damage the habitat, and animals will either find a new home or die.

It is almost impossible to create habitat for one species while excluding others. If you create excellent rabbit habitat, you should also expect foxes, hawks and owls. Instead of being alarmed when a hawk kills one of “your” rabbits, realize that not only does a healthy prey population require a healthy predator population, but that a healthy predator population also requires a healthy prey population. The great equalizer is quality habitat… both nesting and escape cover.

The good news is that most landowners in southeastern Ohio need to do very little to make their property attractive to wildlife; that’s because we already have excellent wildlife habitat. Sometimes simply giving the animals a little space and cover is all that is required. If you want, you can plant trees, shrubs and other plants that animal like for food or cover, or create brush piles for shelter.

On Thursday, June 2 the Meigs SWCD is sponsoring a wildlife habitat management workshop that will cover many of these topics. The workshop will be held starting at 6 p.m. at the Meigs SWCD Conservation Area. For more information about that call the Meigs SWCD at 740-992-4282.

Just because you don’t see wildlife doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Remember, most animals do not want you to see them, so don’t be discouraged. Rather, go out and patiently practice looking for evidence of wildlife on your land. Look for clues like nests, tracks, browse signs, trails, and scat. You need to go out, and go often. Take along a youngster, too. You may both learn that discovery is fun!

Jim Freeman is the wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at

By Jim Freeman

In The Open