The effects of brush management on white-tailed deer habitat cannot be determined simply in terms of the amounts, kinds and nutrient content of forage species present. Cover (for shelter and screening) is a dominant factor influencing the use of potential feeding areas by deer. A tremendous diversity of nutrients forbs on a large root-plowed and raked area is of little value to deer unless there is screening cover nearby. Conversely, a vast thicket of dense whitebrush cover is of little value to deer if forbs and browse species are unavailable. Diversity and interspersion of cover and forage species are essential components of deer habitat.
Indiscriminate brush treatment can reduce the availability of prime loafing or bedding sites of deer, as well as decrease the availability of critical forages. However, carefully selected brush management practices and treatment sited can improve deer habitat and increase the quality and availability of forage, especially in areas where dense brush limits herbaceous production. Mechanical treatments such as root-plowing or chaining may disturb deer habitat by suddenly removing cover screen and shade. However, mechanical strip or mosaic clearing appears to be feasible brush management approach when deer habitat is a concern. The responses from herbicide treatments are more subtle and gradual that broad-scale mechanical treatment. It is extremely important to know before treatment what the plant and animal responses should be and what effect the treatment will have on ranch resources. Strip spraying and aerial VPR are the most effective herbicide applications for deer management. Prescribed burning is also a feasible approach to brush management that is highly compatible with requirements for high quality deer habitat. Burning is particularly valuable when used as a follow-up treatment or maintenance measure.
To determine the most appropriate brush management practice for a specific area, it is necessary to understand the response of the treatment as influences by soil type, climate and types of brush. Also, it may be important to consider how range conditions could make the response on one ranch differ form the response on a neighboring ranch. How fast will a range in good condition respond compared to an overgrazed range? How will animal diets differ on ranges in different conditions and what effect will the treatment have on their diets? Once these questions are considered and understood, it is possible to select an appropriate treatment to accomplish a specific management objective. Regardless of what brush management practice (or combination) is selected, the treatments that will benefit deer the most are the ones that stimulate an increase in forb production during the growing season, while maintaining a diversity of browse and cacti for forage when forbs are not available. In addition, any treatment that stimulates the sprouting of browse species will benefit deer nutrition through increased quality and availability of browse. And finally, where possible, numbers and kinds of herbivores may have to be manipulated to reduce competition for the available, high quality forage species.
Educational programs conducted by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, handicap or national origin.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension Work in Agriculture and Home Economics, Acts of Congress of May 8,1914, as amended, and June 30,1914, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture. Zerle L.Carpenter, Director, Texas Agricultural Extension Service, The Texas A&M University System.