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02/27/2012

Establishing Thick Cover to Enhance Your Property

by Doug Little, NWTF regional biologist

If your property only includes mature woods and food plots, it's time to get nasty. Nasty thick cover, that is.

As forest stands mature, shade from large trees chokes out shrubs and other plants that offer secure habitat for nesting wild turkey hens, deer and other wildlife. Tree canopies can be like an umbrella preventing sunlight from reaching the forest floor during the growing season. This shading typically causes the ground cover to be reduced or eliminated through the natural process called forest succession.

Secure cover is just as important to wildlife as food. Humans don't enjoy walking through it, but nasty thick cover is guaranteed to make the wildlife on your property feel right at home.

To establish thick nesting/security cover, identify 3- to 5-acre areas on your property dominated by trees that are 4 to 8 inches in diameter. These small diameter trees are not merchantable yet and aren't thick enough to provide cover because of the full canopy shading out the forest floor. Using chainsaws you can create nasty thick cover by cutting almost all of the trees in the 3-5 acre area.

Here is how you can create nasty thick cover on your land in a few simple steps:

  1. Schedule work on your property between September and March to avoid nesting season. In northern regions, scheduling your work during this time will allow deer to forage on the treetops after you cut the trees.

  2. Target flatter areas of your property with little-to-no slope to limit erosion potential.

  3. Plan to establish patches of nasty thick cover close to brood habitat to limit the distance poults travel to find insects after hatching. Deer also will use the new cover areas so consider deer travel patterns to take them from the cover to food plots.

  4. Select trees you want to leave standing such as apple trees and other select mast producers. Mark `leave' trees with paint or flagging to avoid cutting them or dropping other trees on them.

  5. Survey the area for invasive plant species prior to cutting. Control invasive species using herbicides, chainsaws, etc., before you create the clearing to avoid having invasives take over once the area is exposed to total sunlight. It is important to identify the type of invasive species and research the proper control methods before doing this work.

After you have cleared a 3- to 5-acre area, the rest is up to natural regeneration. Keep an eye out for invasive species after you create your clearing. It may take a couple years before the area is dominated by thick, woody vegetation but the treetops left over from the clearing work will provide quality nesting cover for turkeys, grouse and plenty of other wildlife.

The downed treetops from your cutting work will provide turkey nesting cover in early April when some hens begin laying eggs. At least 50 percent of the ground cover should be exposed to allow woody vegetation to regenerate.

You may be tempted to remove the trees and tops that you cut down to make it look nice but remember: the nastier the better!

Once the clear-cut is created, plan on getting back into the area within 5 years to evaluate how many trees are starting to shade out the shrub cover. Forest succession can happen fast. It will be easier to remove trees as they appear rather than waiting for the area to be completely shaded out with trees again.

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