Timber management boosts wildlife and preferred trees

MAYSVILLE Mo -- John Anderson enjoys hunting in woodlands. But he also wants a healthier white-tail deer herd and perhaps a return of bobwhite quail at his DeKalb County farm. So he gave his property the chainsaw treatment to boost bucks and birds.

Down came honey locust and small shingle oak trees in carefully selected areas. Still standing amid those cuts are white oaks and the healthiest black oaks. But by thinning timber he’s made room for the most desirable trees to grow bigger and stronger, such as oaks that produce acorns. Native grasses and wildflowers also get enough sunlight to grow. Deer and wild turkeys eat acorns and greens, and birds like quail feed on bugs on flowers.

“Instead of just a tree canopy overhead and leaf litter on the ground, you’ll get plants that grow after they get enough light,” said Audrey Beres, a resource forester for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). “It’s not just food for deer. You get plants that help songbirds and gamebirds. There are a lot of wildlife benefits from thinning and opening the woods.”

But Anderson, of Kansas City, didn’t start cutting trees at random.

Beres helped him develop a long-range forest stewardship plan for his property. First they walked the farm and did an inventory of trees. They found softwoods such as elm and locust along with hardwoods such as hickory and oaks. In some places, thick stands of ironwood trees crowded out hardwoods. Then they selected areas where openings could be created or where small and less desirable trees could be removed near mast-producing trees such as oaks.

“To have somebody walk the property with me who has expertise was a big help,” Anderson said.

Any property owner can learn more about MDC assistance with forest management at the http://1.usa.gov/zRdly2. MDC also offers a “Call Before You Cut” program with guidance on best practices for timber harvest. More information is available at http://callb4ucut.com.

Besides guidance, Beres also helped Anderson obtain a cost-sharing grant from a program for wildlife habitat improvements on private lands. That money helped pay for costs such as fuel or the herbicide sprayed on locust tree stumps to keep them from re-sprouting.

Woodlands and forests change continually, Beres said. Forest management directs change to benefit wildlife and trees.

Anderson’s long-range plan also calls for some native prairie grass restoration. Only a portion of Anderson’s 108-acre farm is wooded, and much of the timber is on hillsides near a creek. The rolling-hills countryside was originally prairie with trees and woodlands on slopes and near streams. He plans to switch some pastures on his farm with non-native fescue to crops for a few seasons. Eventually he will put some acreage into native grasses that are friendly to wildlife.

Anderson may see some immediate wildlife benefits from selective tree cutting and management changes on his land.

“People are sometimes afraid to cut trees because they’re afraid they’ll lose the deer,” Beres said. “But sometimes these openings are the best place to hunt.”

However, trees grow slowly. The most benefits from forest management will be reaped in decades to come.

But that’s okay with Anderson.

“I’ve got two boys,” he said, “and I want to pass this on to them 20 or 30 years down the way.”