Improving Habitat in NWTF’s Shawnee Hills Focal Landscape

The NWTF and USDA Forest Service partnered on the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois, part of the NWTF’s Shawnee Hills area of focus, to improve forest health and wildlife habitat on 550 acres. The NWTF contributed $41,510 out of the project’s $232,623 total cost via a Habitat Stamp Grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The work encompassed various projects and forest management practices, including precommercial thinning (reducing tree density in overcrowded areas of the forest), crop tree release (promoting the growth of selected trees), area release (invasive species removal) timber stand improvement (removing competition for desired trees), mid-story removal (the removal of mid-story trees, opening more light to the forest floor) and mastication (removal of certain tree species to reduce the risk of wildfire).

“The goal of these varying management practices was to improve and promote the native oak and hickory ecosystem, control and eradicate invasive species and improve the forest’s overall resiliency,” NWTF District Forester Chase Seals said.

Precommercial thinning and crop tree release projects in the Oakwood Bottoms section of the Shawnee National Forest totaled 56 acres. The unit where the work took place totaled 68 acres in size and is located near Ava, Illinois.

“This area was hit by a tornado back in 2017,” Seals said. “Following the natural disaster, a salvage timber sale was performed, and, consequently, invasive species proliferated following the natural disaster and logging operation. Forestry crews used chainsaws to cut all invasive species as they went.”  

The timber stand improvement and mid-story removal projects in the Oakwood Bottoms section totaled 185 acres of habitat improvement.

“This stand has a predominately oak and hickory overstory, but the mid-story is full of undesirable species such as maple, elm and sweetgum,” Seals said. “The forestry crew is currently working on this unit. They are removing the undesirable species from the mid-story with chainsaws and treating them with an approved herbicide application.”

The mastication of the open-land areas encompasses 241 acres scattered on the west and east side of the national forest. Crews are using a large mulching machine to reclaim these sites. Many of these sites are thick with invasive species like autumn olive.

“By reclaiming this site, Forest Service personnel can now keep it open by mowing and burning as needed,” Seals said. “This will drastically increase quality available browse [food sources] for both deer, turkey and other associated wildlife, while also increasing the amount of available nesting and broad-rearing habitat throughout the forest for wild turkeys.”

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Illinois