How to improve your woodlands and attract more wildlife

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leaf-covered path through woods

Whether you own a thousand acres of forest or a small wooded lot, many of us are asking very similar questions.

How can I improve my woods? What can I do to attract more wildlife? What can I do to increase the value of the trees on my property?

The answers to those questions depend on your management goals and how much time you want to devote to enhancing your woodlands.

Benefits of brush

If your management goal is to create or enhance wildlife habitat on your property, you can do simple things such as creating dead snags or building brush piles.

Snags can be created by selecting poorly formed trees and girdling them (completely removing a strip of bark from around the entire circumference of either a branch or trunk of a tree). Some animal species are snag-dependent, meaning they use snags for shelter, nesting habitat and food in order to survive. It is best to maintain at least two to four snags per acre.

Brush piles can be created by cutting down undesirable trees and using them to construct these wildlife structures. Trees with a diameter of 6 to 10 inches can be used for the base of the brush pile, while the limbs and top of the tree can be used to construct the upper half of the brush pile.

Brush piles provide the most wildlife benefit when they are placed along field edges, forest roads, streams or wildlife food sources.

Creating snags and brush pile throughout your property will provide quality habitat for birds, amphibians, mammals, reptiles and invertebrates.

Clear cut for quality

If you want to take it a step further, you can also do small clear cuts or group openings in areas that have poorly-formed trees, slow growth rates or poor species composition.

This is where you select an area of your property — a half acre to three acres in size — and cut down all the trees and shrubs two inches in diameter and larger.

This creates young successional forest habitat consisting of resprouting stumps, shrubs, herbaceous cover and grasses. This provides an excellent food source and a thick area of cover for wildlife to thrive in.

Grapevine control

If your management goal is to increase the growth rate and quality of timber growing on your property, you can do something as simple as grapevine control.

By removing grape vines from your quality timber trees, you allow more sunlight to reach the tree, increasing its productivity. You also reduce the chances of the top or a large limb from breaking out of the tree or the tree uprooting due to the added weight.

The most time

If you want to devote more time to management, you can also do invasive species control or crop tree release. Invasive species control can require intensive management over a two- or three-year time period, to fully eradicate them from your property.

If invasive species are left unmanaged, they have the potential to completely take over your woodlands and severely decrease the productivity of your timber.

Another way to increase the growth rate of your timber is by doing a crop tree release. This is where you select your best quality trees that will be harvested in the future and remove the poorer quality trees from around them.

By removing the less desirable trees, you allow more sunlight to reach your crop trees, therefor increasing their growth rate. This allows you to grow better quality timber at a faster rate.

Many of these practices will improve the quality of your timber, while also increasing the wildlife value of your woodlands. By doing some simple management practices you can make your property more valuable, and or wildlife-friendly.

If you are interested in doing some of these practices or other practices to enhance the value of your woodlands, please feel free to contact our office at 330-627-9852 or call your local soil and water office for assistance.

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Jason Reynolds is a wildlife/forestry specialist with the Columbiana Soil and Water Conservation District. He is a Columbiana County native and a 2010 graduate of Kent State University with a bachelor’s degree in conservation.

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