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Wildlife, and the people who watch them, benefit from windbreaks

Tree windbreaks do a lot for protecting homes, people and livestock, but also have an added benefit of supporting wildlife. The color, sounds, tracks and mystery of wild creatures living in and around a windbreak can add enjoyment to people's lives, said Ritch Nelson, wildlife biologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"For best wildlife benefits, a windbreak should have a developed tree canopy, and an understory that includes shrubs and herbaceous plants for food and cover. The ground layer is critical in providing winter wind protection, especially for species that nest or feed near the ground. Upper canopy layers provide wildlife with nesting and foraging sites," added Jim Brandle, University of Nebraska-Lincoln forester and co-author of "Windbreaks and Wildlife", an Extension circular.

Design of a windbreak for controlling air movement doesn't have to be altered much to include wildlife benefits. Brandle lists several options to enhance tree plantings for wildlife like:

--Including a variety of trees and shrubs in the planting, which also gives a more natural look, reduces disease or insect problems and adds more wildlife values for more species;

--Adding a shrub row to the windward side to trap snow before it enters the windbreak;

--Planting a mixture of grasses, a food plot, or leaving stubble 20 to 50 feet along the edge of a windbreak provides additional nesting and food sources.

There are several programs to aid landowners in creating wildlife areas near windbreaks. Statewide, the Conservation Reserve Program offers rental payments, a signing bonus and cost-share for establishing windbreaks and other woodland habitat like riparian forest buffers. One continuous CRP sign-up option (SAFE CP-38) allows partial or whole fields into CRP with acreage size limits. These lands are planted to a variety of grasses, wildflowers and shrub thickets for upland game birds like quail and greater prairie chickens. The Central Basins Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, in 34 central and eastern counties, offers enhanced rental payment, plant establishment cost-share and a sign-up incentive for riparian forest buffers. Pheasants and Quail Forever chapters, in the Corners for Wildlife Program, offer cost-share on grass and wildlife shrubs plus a 5 year rental payment for habitat establishment in center pivot corners.

Planting trees and shrubs for wildlife along side existing windbreaks or adding onto the length of a present windbreak, makes for larger windbreaks that benefit more wildlife than a smaller one.

Planning, design and ordering of trees and shrubs assistance is available at Natural Resources District or USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service offices. Tree orders are now being taken by NRD's. Most cost-share programs are available through a continuous sign-up process.

Remember, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is today, advised Brandle.


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