There is plenty of Arkansas land available that possesses the potential for timber production, wildlife management, and recreation. Over the course of several thinning cycles, most tracts can begin a conversion to the type of timber stands that are desirable to the owner. This can be accomplished through careful tree selection at harvest, planting of additional pine or hardwood species as preferred, and spraying with specific herbicides. While the value of the timber will increase dramatically with these treatments, so too will the wildlife carrying capacity of the land.
Property that is located on a well-drained site and possesses direct access can be logged even during periods of wet weather. An extensive network of woods roads provides additional access to the interior of the property, and added value to the land. This facilitates easier timber harvesting while adding recreational value to the land. The South Arkansas region averages some 50+” of rainfall annually, which serves to encourage good timber growth. Most of the soil is a sandy loam, which is also conducive to superior pine growth.
If your desire is to purchase a pine plantation, you must be vigilant to keep it thinned properly. Some loggers may tell you that the removal of every 4th or 5th row is all that is needed, but this type of thinning is inadequate for good growth. If the health and vigor of the trees is to remain good, the remaining rows should receive a selective harvest as well. Care should be taken during the thinning process to leave the most desirable trees to grow toward future harvests or to produce seeds.
Undesirable or invasive species should be controlled or eliminated by mechanical means or by the use of herbicides. One of the most prevalent undesirable species found in Texas and parts of Louisiana is yaupon (Ilex vomitoria). While the leaves of yaupon are highly palatable to white-tailed deer, the plants are undesirable in the production of timber. They compete with the pines while contributing to an accumulation of understory fuels. This dramatically increases the potential for wildfire on the land. Even as a food supplement for white-tailed deer, the plants must be kept small so that the leaves are within the reach of a browsing deer. Most undesirables, can be controlled with specific and precise herbicidal applications. Ground spraying will be necessary in older established plantations, since spraying over the top of pines would be detrimental to them. Areas requiring control prior to planting of pines, hardwoods, grasses, or crops can be aerially sprayed for better coverage and less soil compaction. More yaupon will eventually propagate from seeds in most areas, but this will serve to establish plants that are within easy reach of the deer, present much lower fire danger, and present only slight competition to the pines on your Arkansas land. Some small isolated patches should be left to grow in a natural state. These patches will provide some food and good cover for deer to bed in.
Fire can also be used to some extent in the control of undesirable weed trees and shrubs. Only areas where the undesirables are small and the pines are 30’ or more in height should be considered due to potential damage to the pines. Any method that serves to control the undesirables on your property will encourage the growth of natural forages that are nutritionally superior for the wildlife, while enhancing timber production and regeneration.
In order to develop the best deer population, several steps can be implemented. Most of these same practices will also benefit turkey, quail, squirrel, and other wildlife species to various degrees, on land in Arkansas. First, areas that are cutover and have very little or no timber present can be planted with several species of nut bearing hardwood trees. These trees will benefit wildlife through the winter months when browse is most scarce. Keep these areas fairly scattered geographically which will help keep deer moving from place to place to feed. Hardwood corridors could also be established or maintained along creek and stream beds. Some land can be planted with grasses or legume forages. Apple, persimmon, or other fruit producing species can be interspersed in any of these plantings. Nutritional diversity and a year-round food supply are critical for a healthy deer population and plantings such as these will help to provide both. Landowners can maintain some areas of the land as pure pine and other acreage as mixed pine and hardwood. All pine could potentially be harvested for sale from any areas that support an adequate stand of hardwoods. This will encourage better acorn production and provide openings for new hardwood seedlings to develop.
Small acreage food plots should also be established in any available area and should be spread all across the property. Any pipeline or other right-of-way that crosses your land could be planted with legumes and grasses to help support a high deer density. While this acreage cannot be used for timber production, it can be a valuable asset for wildlife.
Some consideration should be given to the establishment of additional water sources for the wildlife. One large pond is not as beneficial as several small ones, provided they maintain water year round. Additional watering may be available from creeks that could dissect the land. However, during the driest summer months small creeks will provide little or no water for the animals. A few small, strategically located ponds will go a long way toward holding quality wildlife year round in South Arkansas.
In summary, deer nutrition can be improved by providing a balanced habitat with an availability of various quality foods in concert with the seasonal demands of these fine animals. Deer habitat and available foods will also be improved through selective timber harvests and good overall timberland management.