The Game Commission isn’t pulling the plug on planting crops, including sunflowers, on game lands. But it is scaling back the use of sharecroppers.
Hunters will notice a change on some state game lands moving forward.
In years past, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has employed sharecroppers to plant crops on game lands. The practice has been most common in the southeast region of the state over the last five years, based on acres involved, but it’s been fairly common in the northwest and southcentral regions, too.
The problem, according to Pete Sussenbach, head of the commission’s bureau of wildlife habitat management, is that neither hunters nor wildlife are getting a lot out of the deal.
Row crop fields often involve pesticide use and “clean” farming practices that leave behind little food and no cover, he said.
So, he said, in the years to come, the commission will move toward using more of what’s known as “old fields” management.
Old fields – which can be maintained using controlled burning every three to five years – provide many more benefits, he said. The plants that grow in such places – pokeweed, aster, blackberry, ragweed and geranium, for example – are all preferred food sources for whitetails, and also provide excellent fawning and escape cover. Turkeys heavily use such fields, too, for nesting and brood cover and bugging sites for turkeys.
All of that comes at less cost in fuel and manpower, he added.
At the same time, the commission will continue to move away from maintaining so many hedgerows. It’s been at that work for a while, having removed 436 miles of hedgerows in the past decade.
The goal is to manage game lands in bigger “habitat blocks,” Sussenbach said.
Calling them a “relic of attempts to provide wildlife cover in heavy agricultural landscapes,” Sussenbach said they make field habitats difficult to manage, are an “ecological trap” for shrubland wildlife and are invasive plant refuges.