A Disturbed Opportunity: Wildlife Seed Mixes

Ken Bevis, Landowner Assistance Fish and Wildlife Biologist and Jim Bottorff, Retired Landowner Assistance Fish and Wildlife Biologist

NE WA seeded road-verticalIf you’re looking for ways to attract wildlife while continuing to protect your land, think about seeding grasses and wildflowers. Seeding with a wildlife forage mix is an excellent habitat management practice that yields quick results and is well suited to small woodland timber management activities. Ideal locations for seeding include skid roads, the edges of logging roads, landings, and log decks where slash was burned. It can yield quick results that can improve over time as the seed becomes established. All the seed needs is sunlight, moisture, a little mineral soil, and off it goes!

When the weather cooperates and seeding is successful, noxious weeds don’t have time to get established and the new plants’ root mass slows erosion. Game (deer, elk, turkey) and non-game animals (songbirds, amphibians) are drawn to planted areas to feed directly on the plants and seeds, as well as the insects that the flowers attract. A variety of smaller animals may also use the cover to rest and rear their young.

Application and Care

Seeding can be done by hand-spreading a few pounds of seed after forest management activities are done, or using basic farming techniques such as tilling, adding soil amendments (including fertilizers), and even irrigation. In general, the more work you put into preparing the soil generates greater results for wildlife, but with proper timing and moisture, hand seeding can work as well.

Forage seed mixes are usually sown at the rate of about 8 to 20 pounds per acre, but if you’re only seeding a narrow strip along the skid road or a small area of the landing, an acres’ worth of seed will go a long way. As a rule, the seed should be sown in the spring, or late enough in the fall so the seeds won’t germinate until spring – you can even spread seed on top of the snow in early spring. Remember that the seed will need warm days, nights above freezing and water to germinate and grow before the summer dry spells or winter weather. It’s also a good idea to keep enough seed to re-sow any bare spots the following growing season.

Make sure you control any noxious weeds that are present before you sow you wildlife mix. This can add time and effort to the project, but it’s a critical step if the weeds are present. Your local weed control board can be a wealth of information and assistance on controlling these noxious weeds. Most of these weed species have little or no value to our desired wildlife.

Seed Mixes

Wildlife mixtures usually contain annual and perennial grasses and about one-third legumes, including some clovers, trefoil, and/or alfalfa mixtures. The legumes are particularly good wildlife forage. It’s important to avoid seeding where tree planting has occurred to reduce the possibility of competition with the trees. If the mix is formulated in the Pacific Northwest it’s usually free of non-native plants and some vendors will add shrub seeds such as blue elderberry, cascara, serviceberry, or other native fruit producing shrubs to the mix. It’s important to ensure that a significant proportion of the mix are natives, and that none of the ingredients have the potential to spread as the latest pest species. Knotweed was deliberately introduced as an ornamental!

Several northwest companies now prepare a variety of wildlife seed mixes for different localities throughout Washington. Some farm stores stock “wildlife mixes”, but you should compare the species mix and percentages with other recommendations before seeding. For information on what mix, type preparation and sources of seed try your local conservation district, WSU Extension, or contact DNR’s Landowner Assistance Wildlife Biologist Ken Bevis at Ken.Bevis@dnr.wa.gov