Land Stewardship
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Land Stewardship

Leopold Live! Chapter 2: Brush Clearing and Brush Piles Recap

Lights, camera, Leopold Live! Last month we premiered our third episode of Leopold Live!: Chapter 2 with our incredible partners at Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve, and we truly enjoyed getting to share more about wildlife management practices through the series. Our hosts, Dr. Roel Lopez and Dr. April Sansom, introduced this new chapter of Leopold Live! and explained how new episodes will be a little different from what we covered Chapter 1.

In this episode we were joined by Bamberger’s ranch manager, Steven Fulton, to discuss how brush clearing and brush piles can be used in your wildlife habitat management planning. To start off, Steven showed us a treated vs. untreated area on the ranch and explained how quickly woody plant species, such as live oak, can grow back without continued treatments. He also described some of the methods they use to manage brush species, with special care given to areas where they want to maintain open grasslands on hilltops while minimizing impacts on their aquifer recharge zones below.

Next we introduced our guest expert, Mr. Robert Edmonson from the Texas A&M Forest Service, who spoke about brush management issues related to Winter Storm Uri. The most pressing of these is oak wilt, a potentially lethal fungal disease which is transmitted by beetles. While the storm itself was unlikely to cause oak wilt, the cutting and pruning of any resultant dangling limbs certainly could! The sap-feeding beetles that carry the fungus are attracted to open wounds in the oak, so these need to be painted over as soon as possible to prevent infection. Robert’s recommendation is to never prune oak trees from February through June, but you are usually safe to do so the rest of the year.

We then kicked it back over to Steven to talk about selective thinning as a method to open up forest understories while leaving large and beneficial trees for wildlife, such as hackberry and persimmon, intact. When it comes to planning selective thinning on your property, it’s important to consider the nesting season for birds. Plan to implement this practice in the summer, fall, and winter if possible, to minimize nest disturbance.

But once you’ve cleared a bunch of brush on your property, what do you do with all the material? Steven and Robert discussed three options: burn, chip or repurpose. Robert demonstrated how we can stack juniper limbs in tight or loose piles to provide shelter for songbirds, small mammals and reptiles. These piles can also protect beneficial tree seedlings you may want to keep from grazers and browsers on your property. You can also repurpose downed brush for erosion control by stacking it on hills or in gullies to help slow down water flow, increase infiltration, and reduce soil run-off.

Burning brush piles can be an effective, efficient, and inexpensive method to get rid of unwanted plant materials. However, they can quickly become dangerous without proper safety precautions. Some of these include proper weather conditions (Steven calls this the “teasing condition” where it looks like it’s going to rain but doesn’t quite start raining — a mist or heavy fog), not burning when your county is under a burn ban, and having a water source nearby to put out the fire if needed. Steven and Robert also discussed the size of piles that are easiest to burn, how to best position them before burning, how to start the actual fire and what to do with the burn scar that is left behind once the flames are put out.

The last option we discussed was chipping or mulching brush piles into small pieces. This allows the material to decompose much faster, and it can be repurposed for trails, roads, and mulch for your garden or around your trees. Mulch acts as an ultra-slow-release fertilizer that helps retain water for your plants and minimizes soil temperature fluctuations.

We rounded out the episode with a Q&A session to answer a few questions from the audience about brush management and oak wilt:

Is spreading mulch from oak wilt infected trees a cause for concern?

Thankfully no! The fungus that causes oak wilt needs to live in the water-conducting vessels of living trees or green firewood, so the small chips are safe for you to use.

What can you do if suspect oak wilt their property?

Contact your local Texas A&M Forest Service office, a certified arborist with oak wilt experience, or your county AgriLife Extension agent for help.

What can you do if oak wilt is confirmed on your property?

Robert gives 4 ways to manage the disease since there is no cure: (1) prevention (2) create diversity on your landscape by planting other native tree species (3) Trenching or bulldozing to sever root systems and reduce transmission (4) injecting fungicides in the roots.

If you have any of these same questions or are just curious about brush clearing and brush piles, be sure to check out the full episode!

Leopold Live!: Chapter 2 is off to a great start, and our crew can’t wait to share our next episodes with you! Keep an eye on Facebook for new episodes to premiere every month.

Current Episode Schedule

Supplemental Food Stations — August 24th at 12:00pm

Game Cameras — September 28th at 12:00pm

Supplemental Water — October 26th at 12:00pm

Herbicides and Brush Management — November 23rd at 12:00pm

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