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Brush Sculpting

Posted May 31, 1998

What is "brush sculpting?" It is an attempt to manage brush or timber for multiple benefits (primarily livestock and wildlife) in a manner that is both environmentally and economically sound. The Texas Agricultural Extension Service introduced this concept. Brush sculpting is quite a contrast to the brush eradication thinking of our ranching predecessors. Why the shift?

The shift to brush sculpting was largely due to two reasons:

  1. people now realize that brush has value, and
  2. the failure of most attempts to eradicate brush in the past. Some species of brush proved more resilient than the attempts to eradicate them. Other attempts failed largely due to the lack of proper follow-up management such as periodic fire and controlled grazing.

Another major factor influencing today's concept of brush sculpting is the realization by ranchers (old and new) of the fact that our rangelands are no longer producing just food and fiber. Today's rangelands are finally becoming recognized for their value not only to livestock but to wildlife, recreation, aesthetics, and perhaps most important, a source of quality water to many urban developments. As our population continues to expand, these "secondary" rangeland products are and will be in greater demand.

Unfortunately, "brush" is automatically viewed as bad by most landowners. Just as the term "weed" can be used to identify any unwanted plant, the term "brush" often has a negative meaning as well. Webster defines brush as: "scrub vegetation", which can be good or bad, depending on whether you are a cattle rancher, a goat producer, or a person desiring wildlife habitat. Mr. Steve Nelle with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in San Angelo, Texas has stated his personal definition as: "shrubs and trees which are considered undesirable to the planned use of the area." With this definition one quickly realizes that depending on one's perspective, all trees and shrubs have the potential to be brush. Therefore, to use brush sculpting one must be aware of a major concept of range and wildlife management: know your plants, their values and how to manipulate them.

The ability to identify various brush or tree species and understand their values absolutely critical to a successful brush sculpting program. Trees and shrubs can be assets to rangelands in many different ways, but most importantly they provide cover and food for livestock and wildlife. Obviously, some trees and shrubs are more important than others for various uses. Let's look at an example.

Post oak - Post oak is a very important mast producing tree for wildlife in the Cross Timbers region. It does not provide much for cattle, but is browsed by goats. Post oak is a dominant tree in the Cross Timbers region. It is fairly resilient to fire and can be killed by a chemical called Spike.

However, to avoid other problems, careful followup management is required after using Spike. The most economical chemical applications are generally applied to broad areas and are usually not desirable for most wildlife species. To optimize land use for both livestock (cattle) and wildlife, chemical or mechanical control in post oak timber should be applied in mosaic, stripped or checkerboard patterns.

Large areas of dense trees or shrubs, whether they are post oaks in the Cross Timbers or mesquite in the Rolling Plains, are not beneficial to many wildlife species or cattle. However, a person raising goats may desire dense stands of shrubs. With the ability to identify various species of trees and shrubs and the knowledge of their utility to wildlife and livestock, brush sculpting can be a valuable approach to managing brush on pasture and rangeland.

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