Central Texas is home to several animal species classified as threatened or endangered. However, there are only a few places left around the Austin area where you still have a chance to do something positive for wildlife. If you have a little green space, making brush piles on your property is one of the easiest and most effective ways to go about doing the right thing for our animal friends.
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Deer, turkey, migratory birds and large birds of prey love to have a clear area under the trees to browse, hunt, mate and play and you can create a nice habitat for them by clearing the brush to a height of 6 feet or more. But be sure to save all the brush you are clearing out to make a brush pile. A good brush pile creates a quick getaway for smaller mammals and birds, and helps reptiles and bugs at the bottom of the food chain get a foothold. A network of brush piles should be the cornerstone of any comprehensive wildlife plan.
The correct way to make a brush pile is to lay a base of large limbs in a square with each side at least 15 feet long, log cabin style, next to a woody area so small mammals have a protected corridor to move in and out. A brush pile in the middle of a clearing will get little use because a small mammal trying to access it will be a target for a predator. The brush pile needs to be at least 10 feet high because it will shrink as the green limbs dry out. I enjoy making these “wildlife houses” and will put an old piece of plywood or a tarp in them about halfway through the process to create more shelter. When cutting cedars, turn them upside down and create a “teepee” with the trunks touching at the top. Some of these can look so good you will want to climb inside and enjoy them yourself. Optimally, you want vines such as greenbrier or mustang grape to cover them and create a living brush pile.
Another good way to make a living brush pile is to cut a group of cedars about halfway through or enough to keep them alive and pull them down to the ground on top of each other. They will continue to live and will increase in size every year. You can do also do this with a single, large cedar and use it as a base for your brush pile.
Other wildlife management techniques are letting grasses and vines grow thickly along your fencerows, waiting until late summer to mow large open areas that are not used for hay production, trapping feral cats, and planting native grasses, forbs and wildflowers.
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