Ohio State University Extension Bulletin

Managing Wildlife Habitat on Public Open Space

Bulletin 915

Amanda D. Rodewald, Ph.D.,
Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology,
School of Natural Resources,
The Ohio State University

Part Four: Parkland and Golf Course Management

Because many species of wildlife consume oak acorns, oaks are excellent species to plant or maintain in parks.

Parks and golf courses often contain areas of forest, grassland, or shrubby habitats, and information on these habitats is included in the preceding sections. In addition to these “natural” habitats, parks and golf courses usually contain more intensively managed areas. These areas often have scattered large trees with lawn underneath and may contain small islands of “natural” habitats. Parks and golf courses can be managed to allow the persistence of some natural areas and can provide excellent wildlife habitat along with aesthetics and recreational opportunities. Promoting positive interactions with wildlife may even enhance the enjoyment of clientele and, thus, increase business. For example, many golfers enjoy watching birds on their outings and may choose to frequent golf courses that attract large numbers of birds.

A wide variety of management approaches are used in parks and golf courses, and each has its own set of pros and cons for wildlife. Even so, there are several wildlife-friendly strategies that can be adopted on nearly all park and golf course properties.

General Tips on Managing Parks and Golf Courses

Reduce the amount of lawn. Not only are lawns environmentally and financially costly to maintain, but turfgrass offers little value to wildlife. Almost any unpaved ground cover is more beneficial to wildlife than lawn.

Reduce use of pesticides and herbicides. Pesticides and herbicides can harm wildlife either directly by killing them or indirectly by poisoning their plant and animal food sources and, in turn, expose them to the chemicals or reduce their food supply. Chemical exclusion strips approximately 30 to 60 feet wide at the edges of fields or lawns adjacent to more natural areas can increase the abundance of birds, small mammals, and butterflies in these areas. Encourage natural control agents such as ladybird beetles, some wasps, and birds. If you must use pesticides, avoid highly toxic or broad spectrum chemicals that kill most invertebrates.

Use native plants in landscaping whenever possible. Native plants generally support more species of wildlife than non-native plants. In addition, plants that are native to the soils and climate of Ohio will usually require less water, less fertilizer, and less effort to maintain.

Standing dead trees are important foraging and nesting resources for wildlife.
If Not Lawn, Then What?

Plant or retain trees that produce fruits and seeds (mast), such as beech, oak, cherry, and dogwood. Hard mast (e.g., acorns and beechnuts) is especially important in the fall and winter diets of many wildlife, such as white-tailed deer, wild turkey, woodpeckers, and squirrels. Soft mast (e.g., cherries and grapes) is used by many animals, especially migrating birds, during the late summer and early fall.

Provide small groups of conifers (such as pine and hemlock). Because they keep their needles year-round, conifers provide important winter cover for wildlife, especially in snowy areas. Their seed-bearing cones also are a food source for many animals.

Promote complex vertical structure in forests. Allow understory and midstory layers (shrubs and saplings) to persist beneath canopy trees. These forest layers will increase the naturalness of the park, as well as improve the quality of wildlife habitat offered. On the other hand, if you are trying to restore an oak savanna, then you will want to avoid thick understory layers.

Parks provide excellent opportunities to balance human and wildlife needs.

Retain dead trees (snags) and living trees with cavities. Snags are standing dead trees left for wildlife to use for food, shelter, and nesting. Tree cavities, even in living trees, also provide shelter, dens, nests, and foraging sites for many wildlife species. In fact, cavity-nesting birds often comprise 20 to 40 percent of the birds in the forest, but a variety of mammals, amphibians, and reptiles regularly use cavities too. Trees with fungal conks, dead branches, old scars, and soft or decaying wood (especially heartrot) are good indicators of cavity potential. In addition, trees with loose, rough, or deeply furrowed bark can provide foraging sites for birds and roost sites for bats. If leaving dead or decaying trees is not an option, artificial nest cavities can be created for certain species like Eastern bluebirds. Although safety is always an important concern, not every dead tree or limb poses a serious safety threat. Dead trees and limbs located away from heavily used areas, for example, can often be maintained. Consult with a professional arborist or forester for advice.

Leave natural areas of the largest size possible. Areas that are intensively managed for recreation (e.g., picnic areas and playgrounds) are usually less attractive to wildlife than more undeveloped areas. Leaving certain areas free from recreational development will provide wildlife both habitat and areas free from high levels of disturbance by visitors. Protecting large patches of natural vegetation will reduce negative effects associated with habitat edges and will increase the likelihood that the area will be quality wildlife habitat.

Cluster golf course or park elements (e.g., buildings, roads, parking lots, and fairways) to leave larger natural areas. Locating important elements close together can save time and money on development and maintenance and helps to keep large areas of the property less disturbed.

Develop and build only in areas where habitat quality is relatively low (that is, where wildlife are unlikely to thrive). For example, if you need to build playground and restroom facilities in the park and know that one potential location is an area already degraded by exotic plants and heavily used trails, you can select that location for the development. This will keep intact your high quality areas that have wildlife potential.

Avoid bisecting habitat patches with roads, trails, fairways, or paths. Instead, place these features along the perimeter of the habitat patch.

Eco-Friendly Turfgrass Management

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Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.

Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.

TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181