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Producer Spotlight: Dan Ham, Managing for Wildlife

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Dan Ham began working with the Noble Research Institute in March 2008 shortly after he purchased the property in Pontotoc County, Oklahoma. We helped him develop a strategy to achieve his goals of managing the property for wildlife, especially white-tailed deer, puddle ducks, largemouth bass and wild turkey.

The 600-acre property, called the Ghost Buck Ranch, is mostly wooded with scattered openings. Many of these openings were once planted to bermudagrass, which Dan gradually converted to native plant communities dominated by grasses and forbs. Sericea lespedeza, an aggressive legume, was present across the property. Eastern red cedar was also widespread, ranging from less than 1 foot tall to mature trees taller than 15 feet. The property has significant changes in topography, being crossed by several steep ridges with plenty of exposed surface rock.

After the initial visit from the agricultural consultant and attending several educational events, Dan realized he needed to open up some timbered areas, control the sericea lespedeza, and implement deer and turkey harvest restrictions. He started by securing cost-share assistance from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to help offset expenses for timber clearing and thinning, firebreak construction, and prescribed burning. Dan used these funds to chemically and mechanically treat timbered areas to create openings and thin some areas, leaving just the largest trees in those areas. Dan also created several miles of firebreaks around and through the property to facilitate the use of prescribed fire.

Dan attended several Noble Research Institute prescribed burn workshops and assisted several burn bosses with conducting burns to gain practical experience before conducting the first burn on his property. Dan has now conducted more than a dozen prescribed burns on his property as burn boss. He recently started to conduct growing season burns with great success, which has set back woody encroachment in the openings. Dan's had excellent success using prescribed fire to kill most eastern red cedars shorter than 6 feet tall. The burns also reduced the size of encroaching winged elm in the openings. Dan was recently elected vice president of the Pontotoc Ridge Prescribed Burn Association.

Dan began chemically controlling patches of sericea lespedeza shortly after taking possession. He took advantage of new sericea lespedeza growth in burned areas by spot-treating the patches. These patches were easy to locate and spray following a burn due to the lack of the previous year's vegetation. With persistent effort and good timing, Dan has almost eliminated sericea lespedeza from the property.

Dan set annual harvest limits for deer and wild turkey. Due to his strict buck and gobbler harvest limits, liberal doe harvest quotas, and good habitat management, Dan now sees more deer and turkeys on the property. He has also noted an increase in the gross Boone and Crockett size of harvested bucks.

In 2012, Dan and the Ghost Buck Ranch were featured in the ODWC publication Your Side of the Fence. (See page 3) Dan hosted a Noble Research Institute wildlife producer tour in 2013, and he has hosted numerous youth deer and turkey hunts. Dan was selected for these honors due to his hard work and the results of his management practices.

When the property was purchased, Dan and his wife were happy living in Dallas and never thought about living at the ranch full-time but over the years they began to spend more time at the ranch and now spend the majority of the year living at the ranch.

Every time Dan considers implementing a management practice, he always asks himself how it is going to make the place better for his grandkids. Everything he does on the ranch is with the goal to leave the place better than he found it.

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.