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McGee family improves land through hard work

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Craig and Debbie McGee became Noble Research Institute consultation clients, or "cooperators," on Jan. 6, 2006. Craig has spent the last six years working toward goals that are similar to many landowners - reducing Eastern red-cedar and increasing wildlife on his property. I want to take this opportunity to share their story, as well as highlight his hard work and success.

Craig and Debbie live in central north Texas and own 240 acres in Cooke County. They are only able to spend a few days a week on the property, where their primary goal is to maximize wildlife use and viewing, specifically for white-tailed deer. The property is mostly wooded and was dominated by Eastern red-cedar in 2006. To improve visibility and habitat for white-tailed deer, I recommended they reduce the amount of Eastern red-cedar by cutting and prescribed burning. Until he learned more about prescribed fire, Craig began clearing the Eastern red-cedar by hand-cutting and quickly realized he needed a more efficient approach. We then revisited the possibility of renting or buying a skid loader and tree shear.

During 2007 and 2008, Craig borrowed a skid loader and tree shear, and was able to make significant progress. I then recommended they contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service or the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for cost share assistance with controlling Eastern red-cedar. In 2008, the McGees entered a 10-year contract with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. Through this contract, they were reimbursed $11,000, which they used for preparing fireguards for future prescribed burns and to purchase a skid loader and shear for cutting Eastern red-cedar. Craig has told me numerous times how much he, his wife and daughters enjoy operating the skid loader. They have removed 85 percent of the Eastern red-cedar from the property using the skid loader. The remaining Eastern red-cedar trees have either been left in specific areas to provide visual and thermal screens for wildlife or will be removed with prescribed fire.

skid loaderCraig cutting an Eastern red-cedar with his skid loader in preparation for a springtime prescribed burn.

In 2008, they hired a prescribed burn contractor in Texas. Since the property is not grazed by cattle and controlling Eastern red-cedar was a primary goal, the contractor burned 50 percent of the property in 2009 and 90 percent in 2010. Most of the property was burned on Jan. 31, 2013, to remove cut Eastern red-cedar and other cut trees, as well as to improve wildlife habitat. They plan to continue the prescribed burning program to control woody plants and to increase plant species diversity to benefit wildlife. To supplement the prescribed burns, they also thin hardwoods mechanically to further increase sunlight to the forest floor, which also promotes plant diversity for wildlife.

Since cutting Eastern red-cedar and using prescribed burns, Craig often says that he has seen more white-tailed deer and that he and his family have been able to enjoy the property more. In 2011, Craig harvested the largest antlered white-tailed deer of his life.

Craig and Debbie also manage for largemouth bass and waterfowl in a pond and maintain a 14-acre pecan orchard. Most rewarding of all, they have been able to share their passion for the land and wildlife with family and friends. Through hard work and persistence, Craig and Debbie have accomplished many of their goals.

Steven Smith serves as a wildlife and fisheries consultant at Noble Research Institute, where he has worked since 2006. He received a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fisheries ecology and a master’s degree in rangeland management and ecology from Oklahoma State University. He grew up on small family cow/calf operation in central Oklahoma. His areas of interest are prescribed fire, especially growing season fires, and managing plant communities for livestock forage and wildlife habitat.