Illinois Fencerows for Wildlife

Decades ago, Illinois’s landscape was dotted with fencerows. Wildlife thrived and hunting, especially upland birds and rabbits, flourished as the fencerows provided woody edge cover and early successional vegetation crucial for wildlife.

However, as agricultural techniques changed these fencerows were removed. Removing these fencerows destroyed many wildlife species habitats contributing to the decline of several species including quail and pheasants.
Today, many hunters now have memories of a bulldozer tearing down their favorite hunting spots. Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever of Illinois Fencerows for Wildlife is a landowner program that works to assist landowners with the installation of new beneficial native fencerows on their property as well as renovation of existing fencerows which can remove invasive plants and implement management practices needed to restore fencerows in bad condition for wildlife. Each project is designed to fit the landowner’s objectives with the main goal being an increase in cover, travel corridors, and a food source.

Trees, shrubs, grasses, and forbs (flowers) provide a variety of food sources while also providing shelter from both elements and predators near open agricultural fields. When fencerows are removed, it can make it even more difficult for wildlife to move from one patch of habitat to the next, forcing them to traverse open agricultural fields which not only exposes them to the elements but makes it easier for predators to catch them.

The Illinois Fencerows for Wildlife initiative focuses on shrub species that mature at 10-20 feet tall, bear fruit, are thicket forming for quality cover, visual blocks for deer hunters, and wind breaks. Examples of preferred species are gray dogwood, plum, elderberry, blackberry, etc. depending on the landowner’s goals.

“By using these smaller shrub species in upland areas near agriculture, issues caused by existing hardwood fencerows such as branches overhanging, and tall trees casting shade, are avoided, explains Farm Bill Biologist Jeremy Kunick. “Options are also available for hardwoods such as oaks or conifers such as cedar, or a mixture of all species.”

Fencerows not only provide benefits to wildlife but landowners as well. The benefit of native fencerows goes beyond the increasing game species like quail, pheasants, rabbit, turkey and deer for hunting.

Fencerows can also help to reduce soil and wind erosion. An Illinois State University study found that putting 10 percent of an agriculture field into strips and field borders can reduce soil loss by 95 percent.

Another study by the University of Illinois found that strips can also help reduce the loss of nitrates by 72 percent, phosphorus by 77 percent and Total N by 70 percent. Edge-of-field habitat buffers can increase bird species by almost double. Increasing bird species reduces the abundance of pest insects by over 33 percent, therefore reducing crop destruction due to pest insects.
Landowners interested in improving habitat on their property are encouraged to reach out to their nearest Farm Bill biologist. Farm Bill Biologists can provide technical assistance, and, in some cases, projects may also qualify for financial assistance.