“The primary reason to implement any type of brush management is to increase your grazeable acres and produce more forage,” says Clint Rollins, range management specialist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in Amarillo, TX. “So if you’re not willing to rest those pastures after you do brush management, you’re not going to see increased forage production. You have to give it a rest, give the grasses time to come back.”
That’s just one consideration in an effective brush management program, Rollins says. So if you’re considering brush management, it’s best to go into the program with your eyes and your expectations wide open.
First, he says, no single management practice is going to give you 100% control. “You’ve heard the word ‘eradication?’ There’s no such thing,” he says.
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“You have to be prepared, as time goes along, to do some follow-up treatments. Different species have different periods of control, so when you plan your brush management, you want to plan on some kind of follow-up.”
Furthermore, he says, you don’t want to achieve 100% eradication. “Brush does have some desirable attributes,” he says, including food and cover for wildlife. “What we typically use at NRCS is to leave 30-40% of the pasture untreated, whether it be draws, creeks, sides of hills, or even blocks or strips on flat country.”
Then, he says, determine your objectives. “Management objectives should accommodate the species you’re trying to manage. What are you expecting as far as extent of control and the expected life of the treatment – do you expect it to last 20 years, 10 years, eight years? Be realistic when you start setting goals for your brush management program.”
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Beyond that, he says, plan for secondary effects. While your goal is to increase grass production, all understory plants will respond when the dominant brush species are controlled. Often that’s good; sometimes it’s not.
If you have a pasture with an overstory of mesquite and an understory of prickly pear, it’s likely the mesquite is providing some degree of prickly pear control by blocking sunlight. Control the mesquite and, all of the sudden, the pear might explode.
So perhaps the most important factor in a brush-control program is to analyze the cost vs. benefits, and then consider other consequences, such as the effect on wildlife habitat, he says.