Finding Opportunity Areas for Wildlife On your Farm

ring-necked pheasant on a row of large round bales in a field with a yellow-orange sunset in the background

The key to successful integration of productive crop or pasture ground and healthy wildlife populations is to find opportunity areas on your property to manage to promote wildlife.

These areas are often hiding in plain sight from the combine or tractor. They're in all corners of a typical section of working lands in Iowa, from wet spots to field edges or from forest edges to pasture ground. Places where production is low or management strategies could be altered to create or maintain wildlife habitat while maintaining or even increasing profitability.   

This website is a starting point for producers to learn about where opportunity areas for wildlife conservation preside on their farms and learn what others are doing to bolster wildlife populations on their land.

Farm the Best, Conserve the Rest

Finding opportunity areas for wildlife conservation is predicated on a simple concept: farm the best, most productive ground, and conserve the rest. Here's a few areas on your farm you may find high potential for quality wildlife habitat. 

Once you've identified these opportunity areas on your farm, work to promote diverse, natural vegetation like grasses, flowers, and shrubs to provide habitat for wildlife. If your opportunity areas are on working parts of your farm, like in hay fields or pastures, use the resources provided on this site and elsewhere to gain tips and tricks to maximize the utility of those working lands for wildlife while still meeting your production goals.  

 and more... pasture ground, CRP fields, homesteads, ponds, timber stands, drainage ditches, hay fields, wetlands

Finding places for perennial vegetation (and wildlife) in a row-crop landscape

Many opportunities exist to integrate wildlife habitat into ongoing management strategies on the farm. The challenge for wildlife conservation in the most intensively farmed landscapes is the absence of permanent, non-crop vegetation. The first step to increasing the suitability of a farmed landscape for wildlife is to find new ways to provide this perennial vegetation. Integrating perennial vegetation into management practices ongoing or desired on the farm is best way to achieve this goal. Prairie grasses are one common and important perennial vegetation type that can integrated into working landscapes as described in this article from ISU Extension and Outreach. Similarly, this detailed article on targeted conservation in Iowa's agricultural landscape is another great resource for finding places for conservation on working lands. 

Pasture and hay fields, when managed appropriately, are ideal habitat that mimic the expansive grasslands that once covered Iowa. Check out our page about managing pasture and hay for wildlife to learn more. 

Windbreaks or shelter belts in agricultural landscapes can be a great way to build wildlife habitat and yield additional benefits around the farm. We have an article on managing windbreaks for wildlife habitat, which can be used in combination with other articles on planning windbreaks and establishment, care, and maintenance of windbreaks written by specialists from ISU Extension and Outreach.  

Another common opportunity area is with water quality management programs such as wetland restorations or buffer strips. In addition, check out the following articles about installing and maintaining buffer strips for surface and even subsurface (drain tile effluent) water quality. 

Finally, there's plenty of 'odd areas' in Iowa's agricultural landscapes -- things like fence rows or old fields -- that offer real potential for habitat for everything from field mice to quail to deer. Here are some articles on managing these unique habitats in Iowa written by wildlife extension specialists at Iowa State.