Mature forests offer little in the way of cover and food. Sure, they may have mast-bearing trees like oaks and hickories, but nuts only provide a food source for a couple of months each year, assuming they even produce a mast crop.
That’s why a chainsaw can be wildlife’s best friend. By cutting some trees, more sunlight reaches the forest floor. That, in turn, stimulates an entirely new plant community that serves as a buffet for the critters that call your woods home. Depending how aggressive your timber management plan is, that new growth can include everything from native grasses and fruit-bearing shrubs to tender vines and young trees.
Sound timber management involves careful selection of the right trees. Generally, the least beneficial trees should be removed. Sweetgums, poplars, maples and a handful of other species provide little benefit to wildlife. What’s more, they take up valuable and limited resources like moisture, sunlight and nutrients from the good trees.
That’s not to say some trees that don’t produce a valuable food don’t have a place in your forest. Some evergreens — cedars, for example — are an important food source for deer in northern states. Without them, deer would have little to eat during the most extreme parts of winter. Dead trees of almost any variety provide food for woodpeckers.
Cutting big trees can be dangerous. And if you do cut some towering trees, what will you do with them? There’s certainly nothing wrong with leaving them on the ground. It can years, even decades, but the logs will eventually rot. The tops will too, but before they deteriorate, they will serve as big brush piles, which are great cover for a wide variety of birds and mammals.
The good news is that there is money in virtually every tree species. Talk to a logger. Even better, consult with a certified forester, preferably one who specializes in wildlife management. He can make management recommendations and he can organize and manage any timber harvest activity. You’ll not only create better wildlife habitat, you’ll make a little money, too.