“I really don’t like fruit trees in food plots. They take water and sunlight away from other forage and they take a lot of time and energy. Plus on this property the bears tear them up before they’re any benefit to other wildlife.” In his late 20s, Matt Dye, didn’t get where he is today without knowing exactly what he wanted to do with his life, becoming a walking encyclopedia with respect to plants and animals, working hard… and being a bit cocky. He’s a wildlife biologist and co-owner of a consulting firm (Land and Legacy). Three years after starting the company, he and his partner can barely keep up with the work they’re getting. Add in a weekly radio podcast and a real estate business and you’ve got a guy who’s is on his way.

We heard Matt on a segment of Steve Rinella’s Meat Eater and were impressed with his approach. He stresses knowing your land and what naturally grows there and doing things that will encourage what the land is poised do on its own. He thinks lots of folks who want to manage property for wildlife spend too much time listening to folks with stuff to sell and end up spending time and money on projects the land won’t support and aren’t sustainable. Even worse, he thinks it’s possible to damage the land for future generations if you’re not careful what you plant and how you care for the soil.

Yep, we fit the profile. I’ve written several times about things we’ve done on the place to improve habitat and we’ve had some success (even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then) but had a feeling we could be doing more or different things. So we gave Matt a call and booked a date.

Matt is a hands-on consultant who wants to see as much of the property as possible during his two-day visit. The weather cooperates beautifully and we spend a lot of hours riding and walking. He asks lots of questions and gives us a running commentary on things he likes and things we might consider doing differently. I’m not keeping score, but I’d guess about a quarter is “good job” and the rest is (tactfully)… “let me explain something.” As we tour, a few themes keep repeating.

“Deer and other wildlife like disturbances. A mature forest is beautiful but provides very little food or cover. On average, mature timber produces 50 pounds of forage per year including acorns. An early succession area that’s been clear cut produces over a thousand. That’s why we see wildlife populations dropping in our National Forests. Not enough timber is being harvested to provide food and cover. I understand you’re managing the property for wildlife and timber income but you need more perpetually open spaces. You have to get sunlight to the forest floor.”

“We call fescue a dead zone. Deer don’t eat it and it provides no value. You’re better off killing the fescue and letting the natural seed bank repopulate the area. You don’t have to plant anything. Just leave it be and you’ll get all sorts of beneficial plants like pokeberry, blackberries, greenbriar, milk weed and goldenrod. Let it develop into an old field and mow or do a controlled burn every four years or so.”

“The only reason to use mineral licks is they let you take pictures of deer with a deer cam. If the land is providing adequate nutrition, you don’t need mineral supplements. Trapping is a fun sport but it won’t reduce predator populations. Lots of good habitat is the key to poult and fawn survival. ”

“Clover plots are great but you need more diversity. Part of your food plots should be planted in spring and again in fall with a diverse blend of seed that matures at different times. Deer need food year round.”

I could go on for a long time. Matt’s report and detailed maps give us a long-term vision for the place that would have been impossible to imagine without a fresh set of eyes. He’s challenged a lot of our firmly held opinions but his recommendations make sense in the context of making our place more welcoming to game and non-game species. There’s some crow to eat and quite a few pears and autumn olives cut down. Then there’s the nagging sense of time wasted. I’ll get over that one pretty quickly, though. Time spent at Demeter can never be wasted.

The “Grand Plan” is daunting and will take years to fully implement but, what the heck, you’ve gotta have big goals. Tim says we can only eat an elephant one bite at a time. Yep, but at least maybe now we’re chewing on the right elephant…updates to follow.

Dale and Joneen Sargent are stewards of a tract of mountain land, Demeter, in Bland County. Dale can be reached at dsargent522@gmail.com.

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