Improving Wildlife Habitats
As the owner of Dogwood Land Management in North Henderson, Illinois, Chase Burns is on a mission is to be a steward of nature through wildlife habitat management, general land improvement and comprehensive property management services.
Burns pursued land management after getting into real estate and becoming a land sales professional about five years ago. After he would close on a big piece of land, he often hit the ground running by improving the property and getting a forest management plan written for it. He also started using government programs that were available to landowners to help advance the land’s habitat.
“It was kind of a natural segue for them to go from hiring me as a land sales professional into using me as a land management professional,” he says. “It wasn’t without effort, of course, but Dogwood Land Management was essentially a business that expanded itself. I grew a clientele list with a specific need and was able to serve it, so I just started picking out the equipment I needed to do the work and legitimize the business.”
Expanding Capabilities with a Bobcat T650
Burns shopped around and ended up purchasing his first piece of Bobcat equipment, a new T650 compact track loader, to clear logs out of old access trails, install culverts for improved access and drainage, blaze new trails, mow overgrown grass, move brush and dirt, clear invasive shrubs, and cut creek crossings, among other tasks. The machine immediately expanded his capabilities and allowed him to take on more work.
“The wider track gives you that extra flotation, which is critical for getting through softer ground,” he says. “Some of the areas we track through in remote areas are pretty soft and wet, and we would have buried that machine 100 times over if it didn’t have the track width it does.”
Bobcat was a familiar brand to Burns given that he grew up on farms with several Bobcat skid-steer loaders that were considered to be “bulletproof” machines by his father.
“My dad always talked about how tough Bobcat machines were and that you just about couldn’t break them,” he says. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s definitely what we need.’”
Burns also got insurance and hired some part-time employees that year, until he was able to afford additional full-time employees to take on bigger projects. In 2013, he officially put his background in hunting, fishing and farming – as well as his education in wildlife biology – to work and started an LLC.
“I did relatively well in school but was kind of a distracted kid, so I thought, ‘OK, if I’m going to make it through four years of college, I’d better study something I’m really interested in,” Chase says. “So, I studied wildlife biology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and now, at this point, I’ve come back around to using the education I got there.”
A One-Stop Shop for Landowners
Today Dogwood Land Management specializes in offering comprehensive services for owners of larger recreational properties – predominately hunting properties – as well as landowners with timbered land, prairie or tillable land that they want to manage as a natural landscape. This includes planning and budgeting for annual improvements and maintenance expenses as well as taking care of it all as a turn-key solution. In almost every case, the services are related to wildlife management in some way or another.
“A lot of times the immediate focus is how can I maximize the wildlife habitat on my property without it costing me tillable income,” he says. “So, we focus on managing the forested acres, especially when your predominant focus is on white-tailed deer and turkey, for example. Then we go in and we manage the native habitat, maximize the diversity and increase an abundance of regeneration to provide as much food and as much quality cover on those acres as possible.”
The company currently manages about 4,000 acres and is comprised of Burns, a couple of full-time employees and several part-time employees.
Too Busy for New Accounts
Dogwood Land Management plans to expand in the future to place an emphasis on large acreages interested in aggressively and comprehensively managing for timber value and wildlife quality while restoring natural ecotypes. However, this year Burns did not currently adding any new accounts to the company’s client roster because many of Dogwood Land Management’s current accounts are already expanding organically as clients acquire new properties that require additional management contracts and services – or increase the number of acres they entrust to Dogwood Land Management.
“Once clients see us bump up the carrying capacity to increase the number of birds that are reared – increasing fawning success for deer and nesting success in quails, pheasants and turkeys – they often ask what we could do with 20, 50 or 100 more acres,” he says.
Managing Forested Land in Phases
Typically Dogwood Land Management breaks forest management plans out into phases. For a large property of timber, for example, the company may break it into 15 different sections and then work on sections throughout the property like a checkerboard, to maximize diversity.
“We’ll do two or three of those sections in a given year, because you want to manage for an uneven aged stands,” Chase says. “When you go in and create openings in the canopy to let sunlight in, you create regeneration. That first year of growth is going to be all native forbs, wildflowers, broadleaf plants, vines and things like that, which create great forage for deer. But then, in years two, three and four, you start to get your hardwood regenerations, your new oak seedlings start, and your shrubby growth begins. So, every year that goes by, natural succession takes over and progresses back into mature timber.”
‘Work Worth Doing’
Burns says that while his job is definitely not a “get-rich business,” it is “‘work worth doing,’ as Teddy Roosevelt would say,” as it answers a need in the area as well as his higher calling.
“We do it because we love it. We enjoy it – but mostly because it’s maintaining things in that perfect kind of natural symbiosis,” he says. “So when we get the opportunity to go back in and reset and restore native habitat and land, it’s just incredible.”