How to Make Healthy Young Forest Habitats
Wildlife need young forest for food, shelter, and raising their young. It's great to be able to create large, interconnected tracts of young forest and shrubland: 10, 20, or even 50 acres.
It's not always possible to work on such a large scale. Another way is to divide a woodland into blocks 5 acres and larger and make young forest on some of those blocks every 5 years, so that young forest habitat constantly cycles across the land. For a healthy, wildlife-friendly mix of different-aged forest, keep at least 5 percent of the woods in a young stage (up to 15 to 20 years, maximum).
Check out this Young Forest Guide, a 28-page introductory publication from the Wildlife Management Institute.
A timber harvest can be an excellent, cost-effective way to create young forest habitat for wildlife and promote a diverse and healthy forest. Penn State’s Forestry with Confidence: A Guide for Woodland Owners publication offers guidance for landowners considering a timber harvest. Although focused on Pennsylvania, the guide includes good basic information that applies throughout the Northeast and Upper Midwest. Another excellent guide you may find helpful, also by Penn State Extension, is entitled Timber Harvesting: An Essential Management Tool.
Conservationists also use tracked mulching machines and controlled fire to regenerate shrubland and woods, removing middle-aged or older trees and letting young trees sprout to provide new young-forest habitat. Get a front-seat view of a "brontosaurus" machine clearing trees to renew habitat.
Because some management actions such as brush-hogging a field or clearcutting a forest stand temporarily eliminate some habitat, good land-stewards make sure enough other habitat remains close at hand. A thoughtful plan keeps ample good habitat over time and space so that all wildlife will thrive.
Qualified natural resources specialists, including state private-lands habitat biologists, employees of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and foresters with wildlife training, can help landowners and property managers decide what works best on a given property – plus guide them toward funding that may pay for habitat enhancement.
Most young forest and shrubland will grow out of a usable condition after about 20 years. For this reason, renewing young forest should be a long-term commitment, with management activities planned into the future. Landowners can cooperate with their neighbors to put together large projects taking in several properties.
That's thinking about wildlife in a responsible, sustainable way – and it's what the Young Forest Project is all about.
Revised from The Young Forest Project: Growing Wildlife Habitat Together