Good Tick Habitat!
Why would anyone want to know what’s good tick habitat? So they can alter it and reduce the tick population! Good tick habitat exists in most hardwood forests, grasslands or anywhere with a constant layer of duff (dead vegetation) and growing vegetation.
Ticks prefer the duff layer as it usually holds moisture. Without moisture ticks will dry up and die. In addition, as mentioned in my last blog, ticks bury in the duff layer to survive cold temperatures during winter.
Ticks benefit from growing vegetation as it allows them to wait at the appropriate height to grab a host (deer, human, etc.) passing by. The combination of a duff layer, growing vegetation, and humidity (moisture) creates great tick habitat.
The most natural method to remove the duff layer and relatively short growing vegetation is prescribed fire. In fact, growing season wild fires and those set by Native Americans were very frequent until fire suppression gained popularity. This is probably why the early explorers/settlers didn’t describe constant problems with ticks or massive tick loads on critters they skinned.
The appropriate use of prescribed fire can remove duff (at least until the next leaf fall/winter kill/dormancy of herbaceous vegetation) and remove the moist habitat necessary for ticks to survive!
Currently prescribed fire may be the best tool to reduce tick populations in whitetail habitat. Growing season fires at least two months ahead of leaf fall is usually enough to substantially reduce the number of ticks where the duff was removed.
This has an added advantage in that there will be a flush of new, lush vegetation where the fire occurred. Deer and many other species of wildlife will likely prefer to eat the new growth compared to areas of mature plant growth and a thick duff layer. Hence, deer will spend more time where there are substantially lower tick populations.
This is a no brainer – consider using prescribed fire to reduce ticks and encourage better forage for deer and other critters!
Dr. Grant Woods was raised and began his love of white-tailed deer as a bow hunter in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri.