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Forest Management for Wildlife

Canopy GapsCave, Sinkhole, and Rock Outcropping Zones
Forest DiversityLog Landings and Logging Roads
Snags and Down Woody DebrisInvasive Plants
Streamside ZonesPrescribed Fire


When planning the management of your forest land you will need to determine what type of forest structure you are looking for. If you are primarily interested in wildlife, then forest structure will depend on the location of your forestland to other patches of forest within the landscape, what species you are interested in managing for, the age of your forest, and past management. Even if your primary interest is managing for timber you can still target management that will benefit timber production as well as wildlife. It is highly recommended that you consult with a wildlife biologist or forester before making any major changes to you forest structure. Improper management of your timber whether for wildlife or profit can last for years reducing both wildlife value and potential income.

Probably the biggest problem many forestlands in the United States face is the lack of proper management which has resulted in forests with little diversity, little understory, poor regeneration, and limited wildlife value. If you look at many forests across the eastern United States you will notice that although you see nice 50+ year old trees the understory is limited to a few shade tolerant shrubs and trees. In many oak/hickory forests, it will be difficult to find oak seedlings or saplings. Often you will find shade tolerant maples and beech in the understory.

The first thing you need to determine is what the age of your forest is and the portions each class makes up. Determine the areas that are seedling (0-10 years), saplings (10-20 years), pole (20-40 years) or mature (sawtimber)(40+). Management of sapling and pole will be limited to removing invasive species and thinning over stocked and low quality trees additional information can be found under Forest Stand Improvement.

Next you need to look at the landscape surrounding your property and determine. Is your property located in a heavily forested landscape or is it or surrounded by open grassland and cropland. This will determine just what you can manage for. If you property is surrounded by forest than you can manage for wildlife that require large areas of forest habitat. It also means that how you manage your forest will be much different than if it is surrounded by open grasslands, cropland, or urban development . Small forest < 100 acres surrounded by open land and urban development will have management limited to early successional, savanna, and open woodland species that are highly mobile and able to either fly or walk from one forest patch to another. Even forest between 100 acres and 1000 acres that are surrounded by cropland and grassland with no other forest blocks in close proximity will be limited to the number and diversity of species it may attract.

For example if your property is 50 acres of forest located in a forested landscape then you can manage for species like oven birds, cerulean warbler, wood thrush, Acadian flycatcher, scarlet tanager, Kentucky warbler, ruffed grouse, or white-tailed deer. If you own 50 acres of forest surrounded by open grassland, cropland, or urban development your management will target species like gray catbird, brown thrasher, yellow-breasted chat, prairie warbler, Indigo bunting, Eastern towhee, wild turkey, or white-tailed deer.

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Canopy Gaps

Canopy gaps are small openings in the forest canopies caused by disturbance. Canopy gaps may be caused by natural process such as wind, ice storms, lightening, and dead or dying trees. Gaps positively influence the forest by creating increased diversity by increasing light that reaches the forest floor. This increased light allows herbaceous shrubs allowing other vegetation to grow creating a multi-story complex between ground and canopy. Naturally created gaps increase down woody debris and potential nesting sites for cavity nesting birds when dead trees remain in the gaps. Gap size can range from a single tree to multiple trees which can cover a half acre or more. These same gaps can be mimicked using various silviculture techniques.

When managing your forest you should strive to create a canopy of closure 50% to 70% or a basal area of 60 ft2/acre to 80ft2/acre if you are interested in mature forest species. The more reduction that is done in the forest canopy the longer the gaps will last and the more structural diversity that is created. Canopy gaps should be variable and ranging in size from single trees to no more than an acre in size.

Another way to create openings in the canopy is through creating permanent forest openings. Permanent forest openings should not be done if you have <100 acres of forest and the surrounding landscape is open crop and grassland. Permanent forest openings do not add any additional benefits to small tracts of forest located in an open crop and grassland landscape because typically this type of habitat is already available. Permanent openings should be no larger than 2 acres in size. They should either be planted to native grasses and wildflowers adapted to living in partial to full shade or planted to a mix of mast bearing native shrubs. The native grasses and wildflowers provide cover and food for a variety of wildlife species. A shrub opening provides structural diversity and plant diversity which includes new nesting sites and additional seeds and berries for wildlife to feed on. Edges around permanent forest openings should be feathered to increase light and soften the transition between forest and the opening. For additional information see Edge Softening Techniques.

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Forest Diversity

The more diverse a forest is the more wildlife friendly it is. When managing your forest for wildlife you should make sure to keep a wide diversity of trees species in your forest. Hard mast producing trees like oaks, hickories, walnuts, beech provide food for a variety of wildlife species. Keep a diversity of red and white oaks in your forest. Red and white oaks produce acorns differently so by having a diversity of oaks you will keep from having a complete mast failure of oaks in a given year. Soft mast trees like dogwood, persimmons, cherry, sassafras, blackgum, crabapples, and magnolias provide a food source for wildlife at different times of the year than hard mast trees. You should try and keep a diversity of hard and soft mast trees in your forest to provide food and shelter for wildlife.

All forests age and undergo some level of replacement. Whether it is a single tree or large area of the forest damaged by wind, disease, or insect the removal of these trees changes forest structure and allows new species or new individuals to become part of the canopy. Forest regeneration can be mimicked using a various timber harvest techniques. The primary two methods of forest regeneration are even-aged and uneven-aged. Even-aged management removes a large portion of the standing canopy trees. Even-aged management is a type of forest regeneration management practice that creates stands consisting of shade intolerant trees of the same age class. Even-aged management includes clearcuts, shelterwood, and seed tree harvest techniques.

Uneven-aged management is a type of forest regeneration management practice that creates stands consisting mostly of shade tolerant trees of the varying age and size classes. Gaps 0.5 to 1 acre in size will allow shade intolerant trees like oaks to regenerate. Uneven-aged management includes: group selection and single tree selection. It is preferred for landowners who wish to manage a relatively mature, diverse forest with little amounts of disturbance. The technique that will work best for your forest will depend on what wildlife you are most interested in maintaining on your property. Additional information on can be found in the section on Forest Stand Improvement and in the section on managing wildlife .

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Snags and Down Woody Debris

Snags are standing dead or dying trees. Down woody debris are branches, bark, and logs either left from timber harvest or naturally occurring due to wind or ice damage or sick and dying trees. Snags are important as nesting habitat to more than 60 cavity nesting birds and mammals; species (woodpeckers and flickers) that either excavate holes in dead wood for nest and den sites, and those called secondary cavity nesters such as: bluebirds, flying squirrels, and wood ducks that use holes for nests and dens that were created by the cavity excavators. Some additional cavity work may be performed by some of the secondary cavity nesters.

Several species of birds and mammals such as brown creepers and several species of bats nest or roost behind loose bark on those snags that have not yet decayed to the point the bark is gone. Some birds such as and small and large mammals alike, from flying squirrels and pine martens, to black bears; use large hollow snags for nesting, roosting, and denning. Some species such as eagles, ospreys, and some hawks and owls build nests in the broken top snags or uppermost large branches.

Snags are important as perch sites and even launch sites for foraging forays by some raptors (hawks, owls, eagles) and flying squirrels. Some raptor species use the tops of large snags as a sentry post within their territory or for plucking posts for eating their captured prey. Some woodpeckers hammer or drum on hard snags as a form of territorial and/or mating communication. Another extremely important function of snags is a large number of bird species use them as a food source. They glean insects and other invertebrates from dead wood, bark, fissures, and cracks in dead and dying wood. A few species even use cavities and crevices in snags to cache their food for later use. In total, more than 100 species of wildlife need snags for nesting, roosting, shelter, and feeding. The majority of these species consume vast quantities of insects, many of which are injurious not only to trees, but to crops and humans as well.

Many live trees may also be classed as snags. These include trees with large broken tops and ensuing decay and rot/or a significant number of large dead branches, hollow trees created by advanced heart rot fungal growth, as well as those severely infected with mistletoe and covered with brooms. Some may live for long periods with the defect created by storms, disease, fire, and insects; yet they are functioning as snags for wildlife.

Coarse woody debris includes fallen trees and large branches as well as logs and large pieces of wood left from logging operations. This habitat component serves many of the same purposes as snags: nesting, denning, roosting, foraging, and hiding cover and shelter from inclement weather. At least as many vertebrate species use coarse woody debris as they use snags. Some are the same species such as black bears using large hollow logs and woodpeckers foraging for insects. Some are seen on the exterior such as ruffed grouse using logs for drumming sites as part of their mating ritual. A lot of small mammals use this habitat type for hiding and food caches. Probably the most unique life form using coarse woody debris is several salamander species. Some may spend just their adult life phase in a rotting log foraging for invertebrates and hiding, whereas a few species may spend their entire life in a single log from egg phase through adulthood. Coarse woody debris is host to numerous of insects non?insect invertebrates. These are used as food sources by many of the vertebrate species found on and in coarse woody debris. The ultimate fate of all these species, in conjunction with the decomposing forces of fungi is to break down the woody fiber into organic matter that is utilized by the surrounding growing forest.

The height and diameter of snags and coarse woody debris is important. As a general rule, as diameter and height or length increases, more species of wildlife can be supported. Furthermore, the largest snags and coarse woody debris usually last longer in the environment and are useful to wildlife for a longer period than the smaller diameter and shorter snags and logs. While snags as small as 6in in diameter and about 6ft in height are used for nesting, denning, and foraging by a few species of wildlife; snags greater than 20in in diameter and 60ft tall can accommodate all snag dependent species. Occasionally, large diameter stumps at least 3ft tall can be used for some denning, roosting, and even nesting by some species of the smaller cavity nesting birds as well as some forest bats and flying squirrels. A special concern, however, is for species such as black bears. Use of winter dens and summer shelter often occurs in large hollow trees. These need to be upwards of 3ft in diameter to be accessible by bears.

Foraging occurs on all sizes of snags and dead wood. But like cavity nesting, the larger pieces can support more invertebrates and thus, more foraging. However, a large number of even the smallest snags and downed logs, including those killed by suppression mortality, as well as high stumps can and do supply a great deal of foraging habitat.

Like snags, the larger pieces of coarse woody debris are necessary to support a full complement of wildlife dependent on this habitat feature. To really begin to be useful, this component should be at least 10in in diameter and 12ft long. However, the greatest use for the longest period is in those pieces at least 30ft long and at least 20in in diameter. Again, black bears need even larger diameter hollow logs for denning. Stumps and large diameter butt ends of logs left over from logging operations will be used by some species of wildlife needing large coarse woody debris.

In determining the necessary number and distribution of snags, a lot depends on the requirements of existing wildlife, location, forest type, past management, and the condition of surrounding lands. Obviously, identifying these conditions is not always possible when managing a given piece of forestland. Therefore, some generalities can be applied. Recommendations to provide the best habitat for cavity nesters are to leave a minimum of 6 snags greater than 10in in diameter per acre with at least 2 of these greater than 20 in in diameter. The more snags the better. For best results leaving 16 snags per acre of all sizes, decay classes, and species would provide the most diversity for foraging and nesting. Coarse woody debris dependent wildlife may need an average of 90 logs per acre, averaging 34 ft in length and at least 15in in diameter. Smaller debris is often created when tops are left after logging and resulting from wind and ice.

When selecting trees to create snags, select poorly formed or low quality trees for retention as future snags (and eventually coarse woody debris). Trees with obvious defect including fire scars, broken tops, dead branches, signs of heartwood decay, etc., are excellent ones to leave. Create snags by cutting or girdling at the point of desired breakage. While the larger ones are most desirable, all sizes may be created. Select the poorest quality trees if necessary for creating snags. By killing poorer quality trees, no poor genetic material will be broadcast in their seed nor will they compete for light and nutrients with crop trees. Where creating living snags is possible, top or girdle above the fourth or fifth whorl of branches.

While thinning may reduce future snag recruitment, it also offers and excellent opportunity for creation of snags at little cost during harvest activities. Chainsaw fallers and especially mechanical harvesters can be used to create snags of all heights and diameters while on the unit. A variable density?thinning regime can be employed to protect and create snags, as well as other wildlife habitat components such as understory shrubs and forbs. Very light or no thinning can be included around existing potentially dangerous snags. New snags can be created out of low quality trees within areas being thinned. This may require thinning those areas more heavily to allow equipment in and to reduce hazard situations. These more heavily thinned patches, promote the development of understory vegetation to the benefit of other classes of wildlife.

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Streamside Zones

When conducting a timber harvest a buffer or streamside zone should be left to protect wildlife habitat and water quality that protect the stream from logging activity and changes in microclimate along the stream. This zones help reduce sediment from logging activity from reaching the stream. The canopy left along the stream helps maintain water temperatures. The buffer can act as a travel corridor for wildlife to move between different patches of forest. Trees left in the zone can provide habitat for nesting, food source, and seed source. A streamside zone should be a minimum of 50ft on both sized of the stream. Although on wide streams and rivers the zone should be wider in order to better protect these larger water courses. Table 1 shows recommended minimum buffers depending on the width of the stream.


Stream Width

Buffer Width (min)

Less than 20ft

50ft per side

20ft to 4ft

75ft per side

More than 40ft

150ft per side


In the stream side zone you should limit activity of equipment. Selective cutting of trees in the zone can be done, but this should be limited to a few trees in order to reduce opening the canopy up too much and increasing the water temperature of the stream. Tops of trees should not be allowed to fall or remain in the stream as these can create issues with stream flow and increase sedimentation issues.

Stream Crossings

Cross small streams if the season and weather conditions permit. Very small streams are sometimes dry or frozen, making crossing less harmful. If the weather becomes warmer or rainy, refrain from crossing small streams. Cross stream directly, not on an angle. Do not skid logs down a stream course. Cross streams where the stream bottom is stable and the banks are low and intact. If a stream crossing is necessary, install an appropriate structure - a bridge, a culvert, or a pole ford - to minimize rutting and erosion.

Construct bridges to minimize sediment erosion and maintain stream flow. Inspect and photograph a planned stream crossing, noting potential obstacles, steep slopes, or other erosion hazards. Select materials that will not harm aquatic life. Construct culvert crossings to minimize erosion. Use arch-type culverts to maintain stream bottom form and reduce sedimentation. Size the culvert(s) to handle current and storm flows of water. Failure to properly size a culvert can lead to washed out roads and inaccessible forest land.

Stabilize fords with rock or pole timber. Fords that cross intermittent streams and dry washes can be protected with small logs placed side-by-side, small diameter pipe, or clean rock. These materials will prevent cross rutting and ponding within the logging trail. They should be removed immediately following the timber harvest. Stabilize the sides of culverts to prevent erosion from the road. Make sure the sides of the culvert are compacted, and / or reinforced with cull logs. Chain the culvert or bridge to a nearby tree so it can be retrieved if it is washed away.

Where a logging trail approaches a stream crossing, divert water into the forest. If water collects and flows down a logging trail, it should be diverted off to the surrounding vegetation with a broad-based or rolling dip before it reaches the culvert or bridge. Do not allow water on a forest road to flow directly into a stream, as it will inevitably carry sediment. If it flows off to the surrounding vegetation, the water will filter through the streamside zone, trapping the sediment. The deck of the bridge (or culvert cover) should be higher than the approach road to improve drainage away from the stream crossing. Cull logs can be embedded in the bridge approach, perpendicular to the roadway, reinforcing the sides.

Use temporary bridges to cross streams when appropriate. If a selected forest road will be unmaintained after the harvest, a temporary bridge will protect the stream banks without incurring significant costs. Monitor stream crossing structures during the timber harvest for plugging. Bridges and culverts should not become filled with sediment or clogged with debris or beaver activity. This would create a significant erosion hazard as the water would then flow around or over the structure.

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Cave, Sinkhole, and Rock Outcropping Zones

Caves, sinkholes, and rock outcropping provide habitat for a number of amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, insects, and non-insect invertebrates. Bats utilize caves for hibernating, roosting, and as maternity areas. Some insects and non-insect invertebrates spend their entire life inside caves. Cave wildlife requires very specific environmental characteristics in order to survive. Changes in temperature and air flow can greatly affect the survival of cave wildlife.

Sinkholes are considered the gutters to the subterranean environment. As leaf litter and woody debris accumulates in sinkholes the materials along with water eventually works its way into the subterranean cave network. These materials feed the wildlife of the cave system. Major changes in canopy structure and surface water flow can have detrimental affects to the cave ecosystem.

Rock outcroppings can provide small nooks and crevices for a variety of wildlife to live in. Many small mammals nest in these cracks and crevices. Rock outcroppings provide green salamanders with needed habitat. Many snakes and lizards will utilize these areas for basking, loafing, and feeding.

Harvest activity around cave entrances should be limited. Only selective harvest and group selection should be used with in the 20 acres surrounding the cave entrance. No more than 40% of the canopy should be removed surrounding the cave entrance anything more can result in changes to air flow and temperature. A minimum buffer of 50ft should be left around sinkholes and rock outcroppings in which access by harvesting equipment is limited and tree cutting is limited to selective cuts with no more than 50% of the canopy being removed.

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Log Landings and Logging Roads

Logging decks or log landings are the areas where logs are concentrated, processed, sorted and loaded prior to shipping. Care should be taken to properly locate landings to minimize the chances of erosion or sedimentation. Like skid trails, landings are subject to severe compaction. Runoff from these sites must be addressed in the pre-harvest plan and on the ground both during and after the operation is completed. Soil compaction at landing sites may require extra effort to establish an adequate vegetative cover following harvest. Where possible, log landings should be constructed on well-drained, gently sloping sites of no more than 5%. On areas greater than 5%, additional soil protection measures may be necessary.

A skid trail by definition is an unsurfaced travelway, usually a single lane trail or narrow road typically narrower and sometimes steeper than a haul road. Skid trails are generally temporary pathways over forest soils where logs or trees are dragged, resulting in ground disturbance. The skid trail is used to move logs or tree lengths products from the stump to the log landing.

Post harvest management of log landings, skid trails, and logging roads is important and can provide wildlife habitat. Exposed soils of landings, skid trails, and roads should be seeded in order to stabilize them and reduce the potential for erosion. These areas can provide foraging sites and cover. The key to providing habitat on these areas is to use a diversity of native plants that provide insects, seed, and forage. Species such as Canada and Virginia wild rye and deertongue provide both food and cover and can tolerate shading. Roundheaded bushclover, blackeyed susan, grayheaded coneflower, purple coneflower, cup plant, and showy tickseed provide insects, seeds, and forage and can survive in partial shade. Ladino clover although not native is used to provide insects while native forbs are becoming established.

The recommended logging road/ log landing mixes are based on a 5 lbs/acre native grass, 5 lbs/acre annual wild rye or oats 20lbs/acre, 1.0 lbs/acre native forbs, and 1.0 lb/acre ladino clover. These mixes can be no-till drilled or broadcast using an ATV. Depending on the type of broadcast seeder a carrier such as saw dust or cat litter may be needed to increase distribution and flow of the seeds. If native grasses, forbs, annual rye, and ladino clover are planted at the same time most ATV broadcast seeders should work fine. A cultipacker or drag harrow should be used when broadcasting seed to increase contact with the soil. Hand broadcasting is also an option. Whether hand broadcasting or using an ATV it is recommended to seed the entire area with half of the mix and then go over the area a second time with the remaining seed.

Recommended Logging Road, Log Landing, Permanent Forest Opening Seed Mixes

5 lbs/acre Native Grass with 5.0 lbs/acre annual rye or 20 lbs/acre of oats.

Grass Mixes

Common Name

Scientific Name

Rate

Virginia or Canada wild rye

Elymus virginicus or Elymus canadensis

3.0 lbs/acre PLS

deertongue

Dichanthelium clandestinum

1.0 lbs/acre PLS

little bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparius

1.0 lbs/acre PLS


Common Name

Scientific Name

Rate

Virginia or Canada wild rye

Elymus virginicus or Elymus canadensis

3.0 lbs/acre PLS

fall panicum

Panicum anceps

1.0 lbs/acre PLS

little bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparius

1.0 lbs/acre PLS


Common Name

Scientific Name

Rate

Virginia or Canada wild rye

Elymus virginicus or Elymus canadensis

3.0 lbs/acre PLS

fall panicum

Panicum anceps

0.5 lbs/acre PLS

deertongue

Dichanthelium clandestinum

0.5 lbs/acre PLS

little bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparius

1.0 lbs/acre PLS


Native Forb Mixes

Minimum of 1.0 lbs native forb mix and 1.0 lb ladino clover

Common Name

Scientific Name

Rate

partridge pea

Cassia fasciculata

8.0 oz/acre

roundheaded bushclover

Lespedeza capitata

2.0 oz/acre

blackeyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta

3.0 oz/acre

grayheaded coneflower

Ratibida pinnata

3.0 oz/acre


Common Name

Scientific Name

Rate

partridge pea

Cassia fasciculata

6.0 oz/acre

purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

4.0 oz/acre

blackeyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta

2.0 oz/acre

showy tickseed

Bidens aristosa

4.0 oz/acre



Common Name

Scientific Name

Rate

partridge pea

Cassia fasciculata

6.0 oz/acre

purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

4.0 oz/acre

pale-leaved sunflower

Helianthus strumosus

2.0 oz/acre

showy tickseed

Bidens aristosa

4.0 oz/acre


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Invasive Plants

Invasive plants need to be removed from forest. They compete with native plants and provide little value to wildlife. Species that need to be controlled include kudzu, bush honeysuckle, Japanese honeysuckle, cogon grass, privet, and tree of heaven. These species are extremely invasive and compete readily with native plants reducing your forests value for wildlife. For additional information on controlling invasive plants in your forest see our section on Invasive Species Control.

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Prescribed Fire

Fire is a natural part of many forest ecosystems. Fire historically shaped the plant communities of many forests. Oaks and hickories are fire tolerant species. Other fire tolerant species include shortleaf pine, persimmons, and ash trees. Maples and beech are two fire intolerant trees that when young can easily be damaged, even by low intensity fires. Care needs to be taken when planning and conducting a prescribed fire. Under the wrong conditions can do more damage than good resulting in a loss of habitat and future income. When using fire in a forest it is often best to conduct low intensity winter fires to reduce damage to trees. These fires are typically done between December and March while trees are dormant and weather and fuel conditions are more favorable. Foresters are often concerned about using fires in a forested system, because fire damage can occur to future timber; however, if wildlife and ecosystem health is your main goal with your forest then fire can be a beneficial tool in maintaining and creating wildlife habitat. When fire is used in a forested system it should be done to meet specific goals and objectives such as improving oak regeneration, restoring open woodlands, maintaining woodland wildflowers, creating early successional habitat, or reducing potential for wildfires. These goals will dictate when and how the fire should be used. For additional information see the prescribed fire section.

State fire laws require permits before any burning can be done. It is best to consult with a forester or wildlife biologist before using fire in your forest.

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  What to do when

Use the planning calendar below for tips on enhancing your land throughout the year. Click any of the selections below for more details.






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