Thursday, March 12, 2015

Getting Deer through Winter

During winters like the one we just experienced, many of us feel the need to feed deer, but deer biologists discourage it for many reasons. Decades of research has clearly shown that supplemental feeding leads to increased risk of disease, long-term habitat destruction, habituation to humans, alteration of other deer behavioral patterns, and the demise of the value of deer and deer-related recreation (PA Game Commission 2012). With Chronic Wasting Disease now present in the state, the increased risk of disease transmission from concentrated feeding activities is one of the most significant reasons not to feed.

Deer are extremely well-adapted animals and in general don’t need supplemental winter food. Deer
eat very little in winter, getting by on what natural foods are available. In good habitat deer enter winter with 2-3 months of fat reserves and conserve energy by lying up during severe weather. In fact, feeding deer may lure them away from natural wintering areas, increasing energy loss. In addition, it can take up to four weeks of feeding on a new food source for deer to establish the microorganisms in their stomach necessary to obtain nutrients from that food. Studies in Pennsylvania have documented the death of wild ruminants from supplemental feeding in winter, a condition known as rumen acidosis.

So what is a concerned landowner or hunter to do? Act like a logger and fire up the chainsaw! Loggers in Pennsylvania are no strangers to feeding deer. Their crews feed deer every day. Not with corn or bales of hay, but with mechanized tree cutters and chainsaws. Once the tree hits the ground deer have access to the tender buds and twigs, called browse, which are generally nipped off within a matter of weeks. Where there are chainsaws, there's browse.

Stump sprouts browsed by deer
Deer are referred to as “browsers” meaning twigs, buds, and leaves of trees and shrubs make up a primary component of their diet. A deer’s system can easily digest woody browse, and they will feed on it year round. It is the most important source of deer nutrition. During winter and early spring it is especially important as most other food sources are unavailable. Deer depend on browse to get them through the winter months.

Studies have shown that deer are selective feeders and have distinct foraging preferences. Preferred foods are eaten first, marginal foods are eaten only after preferred foods become scarce, and starvation foods, those that have little nutritional value, are eaten when no other choices are available. In Pennsylvania, work compiled by the Bureau of Forestry and others has shown that blackgum, oak, basswood, maple, tulip poplar, aspen, hickory, ash, and pin cherry provide preferred browse. Of the shrubs, dogwood, viburnum, elderberry, hawthorn, winterberry, sassafras, and raspberry briars are preferred browse.

On average a deer will consume one ton of forage annually. Only the preferred species of small trees, shrubs, and plants have the ability to support large numbers of deer in principally wooded habitats, but it must be present in large quantities. A mature forest provides far less browse than the young brushy stage that occurs shortly after logging. Mature forests only produce 50-100 pounds of browse per acre while young forests, known as early successional habitat, can produce 1,000-2,000 pounds of browse per acre (QDMA,Whitetail Report 2009). Mature forests are important for providing hard and soft mast, such as nuts and fruit, but deer need a variety of habitat types and a diversity of tree age classes. What may have been good deer habitat 15 years ago is probably poor habitat today.

Recently thinned 30 year old woodlot
All deer habitat management should revolve around a forest cutting program to create additional woody browse. One important practice is to thin overcrowded trees. This is a great practice to do in woodlots that are still relatively young, from age 15 to 50 years of age. The purpose of thinning is to free desirable trees from neighboring trees competing with it for growing space. Trees can be thinned to a more desirable spacing by removing poor quality and less desirable species. Thinning trees in winter will puts tops on the ground that deer can browse on during lean times. Thinning overcrowded trees also increases the amount of sunlight reaching the forest floor. This provides ideal conditions for new seedlings and sprouts to get started. An added benefit of thinning overcrowded trees is that it improves the overall health and condition of the woodlot and concentrates growth on the remaining trees.

Another deer habitat management practice that should be utilized to increase the amount of woody
Regeneration harvest in second growing season
browse is to cut and regenerate mature forests, referred to as a regeneration harvest. In this case, a new forest is started from seedlings and sprouts. There are a number of recommended practices utilized by foresters to regenerate mature forests so be sure to consult with a forestry professional before proceeding. Regeneration harvests will provide an abundance of herbaceous vegetation and new succulent sprouts that will flourish in the full sunlight following cutting. This new growth will not only provide an abundance of browse but will also provide concealment for a long period of time, even after the browse has grown out of the deer’s reach. A word of caution, in many areas deer populations exceed the carrying capacity of the habitat and regeneration failures can occur in those areas. It may be necessary to first reduce the deer population in an area before implementing a regeneration harvest.

This winter has provided us with a tough lesson. Take action today, consult with a forestry professional and make a plan to create some additional woody browse on your property or favorite hunting area. Deer and many other wildlife species will prosper all winter from your efforts.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Penn State March Renewable Natural Resources Webinars

Forest Stewardship:
PA Forest Stewardship Webinar: Remediation and Stabilization Strategies for Disturbed Forest Sites, March 10, 2015, noon and 7 p.m. ET.
Understanding the physical dynamics of your site and other limiting factors weigh heavily on restoring desired vegetation on disturbed forest sites. Natural gas development, timber sales, and other activities are projected to impact thousands of acres of Pennsylvania woodlands. Whether you intend to establish trails, wildlife food plots, or early successional forest species, having a plan of action and a list of available natural resource professionals to guide your efforts will increase the odds of achieving your desired outcome. Included among the issues we will explore are: Evaluating your Needs and Cost/Affordability of Restoration, Landowner Health, Natural Gas Lease Restrictions, Soil Compaction and Fertility Issues, Invasive Species and their Control, and Species Selection - Putting the Right Plants in the Right Place. Presented by Gary Micsky, Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension Educator, Penn State Extension – Mercer County.

Water Resources Webinar: Pennsylvania Groundwater: Individual Actions to Protect this Valuable Resource, Tuesday, March 10, 12 – 1 p.m. ET. Presented by Bryan Swistock, Penn State Extension (a special webinar in honor of Groundwater Awareness Week)

Water Resources Webinar: The Pennsylvania Master Watershed Steward Program, Wednesday, March 25, 12 – 1 p.m. ET. Presented by Erin Frederick, Penn State Extension.

Northeast Woody/Warm-Season Biomass Consortium Webinar: Can Cover Crops Play a Role in Shrub Willow Establishment for Weed and Nutrient Management, March 10, 1 p.m. ET. 
Controlling weed competition is a critical component of shrub willow establishment due to low planting density and initially poor competitive ability. Recommendations formed in the US fifteen years ago stress the need for cultivation and herbicides that leave the soil surface exposed for long periods of time, increasing the risk of soil erosion and nutrient losses. Very little work has been done to investigate the use of cover crops for improving the sustainability of shrub willow establishment. We initiated two trials in September of 2013 to test the effects of fall-seeded cover crops on weed suppression and nutrient availability in shrub willow planted the following spring. In one trial, we tested cereal rye and a brassica cover crop alone and in combination against a conventional field preparation control. In the second trial, we tested three fall-seeded cereal crops along with a conventional preparation control. Cover crop plots received no herbicides and cover crops were managed by rolling with a residue cutter/roller to produce a mulch layer. Fertility treatments were used to manipulate nutrient availability. Weed populations, nutrient availability and willow growth were measured over one growing season. Results from these two trials suggest that cover crops could have a role in improving the sustainability of shrub willow crop establishment, but important factors such as cover crop selection and management methods are important considerations. Lessons learned and suggestions for future research will also be discussed. Presented by Eric Fabio, Cornell University. 

Green Infrastructure:
Penn State Extension Green Infrastructure Webinar Series: Green Stormwater Infrastructure: an Overview of Villanova’s Research, March 9, 2015, 3 p.m. ET (please note the different time for this webinar only). Presented by Robert Traver, Ph.D., PE, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering & Director of the Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership (VUSP), Villanova University.
Penn State Extension Green Infrastructure Webinar Series: Maintaining the Green Infrastructure Systems in Your Community, March 16, 2015, noon ET. Presented by Robert Traver, Ph.D., PE, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering & Director of the Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership (VUSP), Villanova University.
Penn State Extension Green Infrastructure Webinar Series: Incorporating Green Infrastructure to Revitalize Your Community: Leading the Way in Lancaster, PA, March 31, 2015, noon ET. Presented by Charlotte Katzenmoyer, Director of Public Works, City of Lancaster.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

New Forest Steward Sign

Old "Stewardship Forest" sign
The old Forest Steward signs are being replaced by a newly re-designed, colorful "Stewardship Forest" sign. State forestry agencies can now purchase the new-style sign. The sign declares the property as a "Stewardship Forest" and includes the Forest Stewardship Program theme art that depicts the four primary values produced by private forests (forest products, watershed protection, recreation, and wildlife habitat).  
New "Stewardship Forest" sign

A statement at the bottom of the sign reads, "This forestland is being managed sustainably under a written forest management plan that meets Forest Stewardship Program standards in accordance with the state forestry agency and the USDA Forest Service."  The USDA logo and U.S. Forest Service shield are at the bottom of the sign with extra room for States to affix a sticker with their logo if desired. State agencies can contact Voss Signs, the sign vendor, directly for pricing and ordering information. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Importance of Family Owned Forests, Part II

On Wednesday, February 4th, I shared new research about the benefits of family-owned forests--and the challenges faced by private woodlands. It was based on the Huffington Post op-ed by American Forest Foundation (AFF) President Tom Martin who outlined the findings.

In this next report of the AFFs special edition on the "Importance of Family Owned Forests" they focus on the tremendous supply of wood family forests currently provide. If all this wood were used as fuel, it could power 67 million homes for a year. Or, looking at it another way, that wood supply includes enough high-quality, large logs to build 37 million homes. Yet much of this family-owned forestland is threatened and the benefits it provides could be lost.

Take a look at our latest post to learn just how much wood is available in family forests, what threatens these woodlands, and what benefits--including wood products, clean water and wildlife habitat--could be lost if we don't take action.

 February 18, 2015, by Tom Martin
When you turned on your lights today, did you think of a family forest owner? Or how about this morning when you walked across your dark-stained pine floors and opened the drawers to your maple bureau: did you imagine the family-owned forest where it may have come from? Or when you sneezed and reached for a tissue?

Because families care for more of America’s forests than the government or corporations, family-owned forests and the products produced from these lands are part of every aspect of our lives and most of us don't even realize it. These lands are an integral piece of America’s forest puzzle - without them, we wouldn’t have the same clean air and water, wildlife habitat, places to recreate, or forest products we all use every day.

New research from the American Forest Foundation, produced in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and the Family Forest Research Center, shows that the wood supplies in family-owned forests are abundant—these forests currently have more than 358 billion cubic feet of standing wood

To put this into context, if all this wood was low quality biomass and were used as fuel, it would create enough energy for 67 million houses for one year. Or, looking at it another way, that includes enough high quality, large logs to build 37 million homes. And could be renewed to build or power just as many in the future!

To read the rest of the story click here.