CELEBRATE CONSERVATION: Maing a home for wildlife

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY DON RATZLAFF
A love of the outdoors prompted Ron Duerksen a couple of years ago to see what he could do to make his farmland northwest of Lehigh more wildlife-friendly.

His efforts have been rewarded with noticeable increases in game fowl and other wildlife?not to mention his selection for this year?s Wildlife Habitat Award.

?I do a lot of hunting and fishing, along with Shane, my son,? says Duerksen. ?We?re trying to establish a situation that would bring in more wildlife?like pheasant, quail, deer and turkey.?

For ideas, Duerksen contacted the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks and then worked with a wildlife biologist to design a program to enhance the wildlife population on his 145 acres.

The plan they come up with was a blend of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land, food plots, tree and shrub plantings, filter strips and water sources to create a lot of ?edge??places where one kind of land cover changes to another kind.

?It?s where a bird can get under cover and out of sight, but yet close to feeding,? Duerksen says.

That meant planting food plots?milo, corn and sorghum?between terraces in brome fields, as well as a 33-foot wide strip along the creek that runs through the land.

Last spring, he planted more than 1,000 trees for food and cover, including choke cherry, sumac, burr oak, red cedar and sandhill plum. He used weed barrier fabric with his newly planted trees, which gave them an excellent survival and growth rate.

Duerksen realizes some farmers may look at his land-use strategy with some skepticism, but he says his efforts have paid off in numerous ways.

?I do it for relaxation, to spend lots of time with friends and have a very enjoyable several hours with them,? he says. ?For me, it?s a way I get closer to God. Some people may laugh at that, but it works for me.?

He says observing wildlife in a natural environment is the biggest attraction.

?It?s not that we go out there and see how many birds we can kill,? he says. ?I get more of a kick out of watching the wildlife.?

A highlight has been observing wild turkeys in their mating ritual.

?That was pretty awesome,? Duerksen says. ?I had a wildlife biologist with me at the time, and he said he had never seen that in the wild.?

In the future, Duerksen hopes to spend more time hunting game with a video camera as well as a gun.

His advice for anyone interested in making their land more wildlife-friendly is to contact Wildlife & Parks.

?They can definitely direct you in the right way,? he says. ?They?ve been very helpful.?

His own investment has been more than worthwhile.

?We enjoy it tremendously,? he says.

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