Cost and Forage Production of Food Plots, Prescribed Fire, and Roller Chopping for Northern Bobwhite at Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area, Florida

Management of northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) commonly focuses on creating cover and food for bobwhite throughout the year. Numerous studies have addressed these management practices and their impacts on bobwhite, but few have assessed the quantity of resources they pro- duce or the associated management cost per unit of production. My study assesses three common bobwhite habitat management practices (prescribed fire, roller chopping, and food plots) on the Cecil M. Webb-Babcock Wildlife Management Area in Charlotte County, Florida. I estimated production of the most common natural bobwhite forage (slough grass [Scleria spp.]) and the most common planted species (sesbania [Sesbania spp.]) in 80 wild- life exclosures located in areas that had been managed with prescribed fire only, in those that had been managed with both prescribed fire and roller chopping, and in food plots. I documented substantially higher production yields (i.e., dry weight of seed) of sesbania in food plots (3,627.3 kg ha–1) than other forage species and under different management practices. Slough grass was much more widespread across management practices and the study area than sesbania, which was documented only in food plots. Based on yield estimates, production was more cost-effective for sesbania in food plots than slough grass in roller chopping areas ($0.88 kg–1 and $23.91 kg–1, respectively). Although production and management costs of sesbania food plots are much lower than those associated with management for slough grass, environmental factors such as flooding, seed degradation, and the small effective spatial extent of food plots may limit any positive benefits for bobwhite populations.

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