Conservation Contractors Put Professional Wildlife Management Within Reach of Private Landowners

By Jim Low – Parties on both sides of these arrangements are pleased with the results.

When Craig Allee knocks off at the end of the work day, he can see the results of his labor. One day, it might be several hundred yards of sheared-off trees and brush piles. Another, it is a new wildlife food plot. His clients – both human and wild – appreciate his work, too.

Allee, owner operator of Allee Brush Clearing Service LLC, is a conservation contractor, one of a new breed of wildlife managers. He is an entrepreneur, rather than a government employee, doing custom wildlife management work for private landowners. He has the satisfaction of knowing that wildlife will thrive as a result of his labor. His clients find it convenient and economical to have the work done by a professional.

For example, Allee has a hydraulic tree shear, basically a huge pair of scissors mounted on a skid loader. With it, he can grasp trees up to 8 inches in diameter, clip them off at their bases and arrange them in brush piles. The device is made to order for landowners who want to open up overgrown fields or make the edges of woodlots more productive for quail and other wildlife.

“Buying a piece of equipment like this doesn’t make sense for most landowners,” said Allee. “By hiring me, they get the job done for a fraction of the cost. That makes more sense for most people than doing it by hand, with a chainsaw.”

Allee grew up farming. His strong interest in hunting and wildlife led him to experiment with food plots for deer and turkey. Then he learned about conservation contractor training offered by the Missouri Department of Conservation. To date, he has received training in stream-bank protection, timber-stand improvement, creating wildlife habitat through brush-hogging and disking, controlling invasive plants and converting exotic, cool-season grasses to native plants.

“It is very rewarding,” said Allee. “I like seeing the difference in land as it changes from being unsuitable for wildlife to having a more diverse mix of plants that helps wildlife flourish.”

One of Allee’s clients, Tom Smith, has found the arrangement rewarding, too. He bought 19 acres in Moniteau County, where he and his wife built a home. A first-time landowner, Smith wanted to try to get quail on his property. Most of the land was grown up with thorn-studded locust trees and shrubby cedars.

Doug Bensman, the local private land conservationist with the Conservation Department, visited Smith’s land and explained that removing the trees and replacing them with native, warm-season grasses would enhance the land’s attractiveness to quail. He also told Smith about habitat-restoration incentives offered by Quail Unlimited (QU).

QU was prepared to reimburse Smith for up to $750 worth of habitat work a year. Since Smith lacked the equipment to do the work himself, Bensman gave him a list of conservation contractors.

“I got Craig’s name from that list and contacted him,” said Smith. “He did the work in three or four days. He cut all the trees – some of them were as big around as a Frisbee – and piled them up in the middle and sprayed the stumps so they wouldn’t grow back. It would have taken me weeks to do the same thing.”

Best of all, Quail Unlimited covered the cost of all of Allee’s work.

“I still have to plant the grass seed, but this really got me started,” said Smith.

Like Allee, John Timmerman has a background that led naturally into becoming a conservation contractor.

“I started out as a kid in grade school fighting fires for the Conservation Department,” he recalls. “Back then you could work fighting fires if you were 12 years old with your parents’ permission. I went to one of the last one-room schools in the state, and it just happened to be right next door to the Kelleter Fire Tower south of Sullivan.”

That early experience kindled a life-long interest in firefighting and conservation. While in college, Timmermann got a job with the Boone County Fire Protection District. A few years later he began serving on crews fighting fires in Western states.

Creation of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) by Congress in the 1980s led to the planting of tens of thousands of acres of grassland in Missouri. One of the primary tools for managing that land was prescribed burning.

“I saw that as a business niche I could get into,” said Timmerman. “There wasn’t anybody else around who did that at the time. There were lots of nonresident landowners, elderly people, people who were just flat afraid of fire.”

As his business grew, Timmerman acquired two fire engines, two tractors, spraying equipment and a Meri Crusher, a specialized implement that clears fire lines to bare soil. During the peak burning season from March through May, he keeps up to six trained fire crews busy conducting prescribed burns statewide.

Peggy Slaughter is one of Timmerman’s clients. Prescribed burning is not new to her. She and her late husband previously owned land in Harrison County, including a large stand of native switch grass. They burned the field themselves periodically to maintain that stand’s vigor.

“Once, we were burning and a wind came up, and my gosh, it sounded like a freight train coming through! It moved so fast!”

In spite of her own experience – and partly because of it – Slaughter now chooses to hire out the job of prescribed burning on her land in Moniteau and Cooper counties. Native warm-season grasses grow on part of the land, but it is mixed with fescue, which she is working to eradicate. She was very impressed with Timmerman’s Meri Crusher, which she said leaves a fire line that is completely fire proof but doesn’t hamper movement around her property.

“That thing leaves a trail that is completely fireproof but easy to drive over. I like that. With a disked fire line, it is hard to get around. This was as smooth as a lettuce bed.”

Slaughter also liked not having to rent equipment and worry whether the fire might get away from her. Paying someone to conduct the burn costs more than doing it herself, but she considers the convenience and confidence of hiring a professional worth the added expense.

“If you rent the drip torches and sprayer and everything, that all costs money. John has a fire truck, that crusher thing, special fire clothing and all the other equipment, plus helpers. There is a world of experience there. That’s the biggest thing to me. That is worth something.”

Much of wildlife contractors’ work is eligible for reimbursement when landowners participate in state and federal cost-share programs. Federal farm bill programs that can help make habitat work affordable for private landowners include the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Wetland Reserve Program, the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

State programs include the Missouri Quail Habitat Initiative, which is a partnership between Quail Unlimited and the Conservation Department, and CRP-BOB, a joint effort by the Conservation Department and the Missouri Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

To find conservation contractors in your area, visit http://www.mdc.mo.gov/programs/contractor/, and click on “Contractors Database,” or contact MDC, Private Land Services Division, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180, phone (573) 751-4115.

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1 Response to “Conservation Contractors Put Professional Wildlife Management Within Reach of Private Landowners”


  1. 1 Best Home August 17, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    This is very nice and informative post. I have bookmarked your site in order to find out your post in the future.


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