Vary Your Forest’s Age

From a distance, there’s nothing prettier than a vast tract of mature hardwoods or pines. Take a closer look, though, and you’ll see a landscape lacking in diversity. There’s little growth on the forest floor and even less diversity in the wildlife.

Why Varying Ages?

Forest diversity, in the form of varying ages, is vital because different species of birds, mammals and other wildlife have different needs. Some, like scarlet tanagers, use the high canopies of big hardwoods. Woodpeckers also rely on old trees, which tend to have more nesting cavities and dead limbs that hold insects.

Grouse, quail and rabbits, on the other hand, need the thick cover found within forests in their youngest stages. Known as early-successional habitat, it provides nesting and fawning cover and a wealth of food in the form of buds, fruit and tender greens.

Middle-aged forests, anything from 20 to 40 years, also have a variety of wildlife species that depend on them. They typically don’t have as much ground cover, but they produce mast, like beechnuts, acorns and chestnuts, and still have some cover.

Rotate Your Cuts

The best way to create a healthy forest for all wildlife is to cut trees. Instead of cutting them all at once, cut a portion every few years. Some forest wildlife experts suggest a new cut every ten years. How much you cut depends entirely on how much land you have, but some foresters suggest cutting about ten percent every ten years. That means the first area cut won’t be cut again for 100 years. You’ll have all stages of forest and a wider variety of wildlife. There’s nothing wrong with cutting a larger or smaller portion of your forest. What matters is that you have a forest with different stages of growth.

Give Them A Hand

The good news is that you don’t have to do much in order to create uneven-aged forests. Simply hire a logger to cut some trees. New trees will soon take their place. Some will grow as sprouts from the stumps of the felled trees; others will spring up from nuts and seeds on the forest floor. A dose of sunshine is all that’s necessary to get them growing.

Be warned, though. Some tree species are invasive and will take over the landscape if you let them. Native trees like poplars, maples and sweetgums and non-natives like tree-of-heaven, grow fast and outcompete oaks and other beneficial species. They can be controlled with a simple non-selective herbicide or through prescribed burning. Kill those species, but leave the oaks, hickories and other hard and soft mast-bearing trees. There’s nothing wrong with some poplars and sweetgums, but don’t let them take over. 

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