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IMPROVING DEER HABITAT THROUGH FOREST REGENERATION
Part 1: Before the Harvest
by Steve Chilcote
A lot if information is out there to describe how to install food plots. Food plot installation is great for improving deer habitat, but it’s only half the battle. This article discusses how to improve your woods to provide food and cover and turn your property into a deer magnet.

Deer are creatures of the thickets, utilizing heavy cover to avoid predators and to feed. It is their nature to cling to cover that is thick enough to hide them, but allows them to move quickly should they have to run for safety. If they have thick cover that also provides them with enough food to sustain them, there is no reason to leave the area, outside of dispersal and rut habits. By following these guidelines, you can create habitat that, hopefully, will become the core home range of the best bucks in the area and attract lots of does. Whether you have ten or hundreds of acres, forest treatments will attract deer, keep them on the property and provide feed all year.

When I first look at a property with a new landowner client, I examine the entire property from a whole tract point of view. I look at where the deer are likely to bed and feed, whether those locations are on the property or off and where I can make changes that will keep and attract more deer and other game. In many cases, there are areas that are good growing sites for timber, but past poor harvesting practices and high deer populations result in a timber stand that is sterile and of no use to deer.

Regenerated, young forests are ideal deer habitat. To create this habitat, I usually prescribe regeneration harvesting. Regeneration harvesting can be as severe as a clearcut, but usually, a seed tree or shelterwood harvest is recommended, depending on what the current stand structure looks like. A seed tree harvest basically leaves just enough trees to provide seed for the new stand of timber. The lighter the seed, as with ash, maple or aspen, the fewer trees are needed. Heavy seeds such as acorns and cherries need more trees since seeds don’t fall very far from the tree. We never want to take away our seed source until a new stand is established. Birds and mammals move seeds around in there gut or cache them for winter, but these are unreliable sources. Since acorns are our most important food source, I usually don’t take the overstory off even after the new stand has developed, thus creating a two-aged stand.

Most hardwood trees sprout vigorously from the stump after cutting and the seeds of many plants can survive for a very long time waiting for a disturbance to increase sunlight and growing space to sprout. So we have new trees and shrubs coming from three different sources after a harvest – stored seed, stump sprouts and new seed. For desirable plants to enhance deer food, we can also plant trees and shrubs that don’t currently exist in the stand. Let’s examine the process step by step.

The first step is to remove invasive species that prevent the growth of desirable trees and shrubs. Most of the understory in Pennsylvania forests is "deer selected". The only plants that are growing there are plants that deer don’t eat. These are usually ferns, beech brush, striped maple, or all of the above. I spend the better part of the summer eliminating these species for state agencies prior to timber harvesting. Unfortunately, deer don’t utilize these species unless they are starving. At the same time, these species are shade tolerant. The shade of the overstory combined with deer eschewing them allow these unwanted species to take over the forest floor. Before harvesting any of the overstory trees, these invasive species must be eradicated. Otherwise, you will end up with a field of ferns and unwanted brush. Mist blowing glyphosate will take care of most of the fern growth. I usually cut off the beech and striped maple, and then hit the stump with some Garlon 4.

If you want the mature beech left in the stand for their valuable mast, don’t treat the root suckers of mature beech trees with herbicide. The uptake of the chemical will often kill the parent tree. Root suckers are easily differentiated from other young beech by the extremely thick growth under a large tree that has been stressed by disease or previous logging operations. The reason I do not favor beech despite its valuable mast is that it usually succumbs to beech bark complex and doesn’t live to become a healthy tree. Any smooth-barked healthy individual is left in the stand, especially if it has good crops of nuts. You can pick these individuals out in winter as the nut hulls will stay on the tree into winter and can be seen clearly against the sky. If the tree has good bark and produces nuts, be sure to leave it.

The next step is to decide what I want the new stand to look like after harvesting and mark it accordingly. This depends on what will grow best on the site and what trees are providing mast or seeds. Usually, there are some oaks in the overstory. Chestnut oak is often left after high-grade harvesting since it is not as valuable as other oaks. That's fine with me since chestnut oaks provide more reliable acorn production than other oaks in my region. There is often a lot of poor quality red maple in the stand. This is a species that we want to remove since the only time it does any good for deer is when it is sprouting and providing browse. I often mark the trees I want to keep and instruct the logger to take everything else. With some luck, the stand has enough value in the harvested trees to pay for our other activities like planting, herbicide and food plot installation.

The important thing is to open up the forest floor, once it is cleared of invasive ferns, to let in enough sunlight to grow shade-intolerant trees. Most mast-producing trees and shrubs as well as good cover plants are shade-intolerant. They need plenty of sunlight to grow. Oaks, cherry, apples and fruit-bearing brush all require full sunlight at least part of the day to grow. If there are very few quality oaks or cherries, the harvest will be a seed tree harvest. This is a severe cut that will look similar to a clearcut, but will leave any trees that will provide seeds for your new stand and to feed wildlife in the future. In a seed tree harvest, I will leave the seed trees alone, but if a light shelterwood harvest is done, I will have to go back into the stand to take out some more overstory once regeneration is well-established to provide light and growing space.

Steve Chilcote, B.S., M.F.R.
Forester, Realtor Associate
(814) 360-4510 or (814) 364-1455
Email: forester@chilcoteforester.com
Web: http://www.chilcoteforester.com/default.htm

Editor's note: Don't miss next week's issue, in which Steve will share some tips and strategies on how to make these forest management operations pay for themselves, along with some other ways to finance habitat improvement on wooded lands. He also points out the first steps to take to begin the process of transforming your property into a haven for deer and other wildlife once the harvesting activities are finished.

provided compliments of http://Eaglestar.net

 

IMPROVING DEER HABITAT THROUGH FOREST REGENERATION
Part 2: Some Economic Considerations
by Steve Chilcote
Editor's note: In last issue, forester and land expert Steve Chilcote shared
with our readers how to plan and implement harvesting and other steps necessary
to improve habitat for deer and other wildlife on forested land, especially in
Northeast hardwood forests. This week Steve presents some ways to possibly
profit from or at least offset some costs of these activities, as well as a few
things that should be done once the harvest is complete. Part 1 can be viewed
at http://www.eaglestar.net/newsletter/index.cgi?ID=62

Performing this type of low-value harvest can be difficult and complicated. A
timber sale is only possible if there is a local market for the material.
Pallet mills, pulp mills and co-generation plants that burn wood chips are all
buyers of low quality timber. As fuel prices rise, the end user must be closer
to the harvest area these days. With environmental pressure on the paper
industry, it has become difficult to operate a pulp mill in the U.S. so the
plants that paid good money for pulp wood in the past are closed down. Without
good markets, a landowner may have to pay to have land cleared instead of
having an income from the harvest. In this case, it may be more feasible to cut
trees down by hand or sell firewood locally. Instead of going to the gym in the
winter time, grab a chainsaw and start cutting the unwanted trees and brush
from your chosen area.

A private or state forester will be able to help you with the feasibility of a
sale and to mark the stand accordingly. Make sure the forester understands what
you are trying to accomplish. Any timber harvester you allow on the property
should thoroughly understand what you are trying to achieve in the stand.
Loggers and sawmill foresters are not going to help you with choosing the
appropriate trees to cut or leave. They are highly motivated to harvest the
best trees on the property and do not really have your deer habitat needs in
mind. They will tell you they do but they don’t. Trust me on this. The biggest
and best trees are producing the most mast and you need them for seed and feed.
Unfortunately, the most valuable species also produce the most valuable food
for wildlife. You need the advice of a forester who is wildlife oriented. When
choosing a professional to advise you and help with your harvesting operation,
find one who hunts. Many foresters aren’t hunters, believe it or not.

Where deer populations are high as in Pennsylvania and the regeneration area is
small (less than 75 acres) you will need a deer exclusion fence to keep browse
pressure off the area until a new stand is established. Stump sprouts are like
candy to a deer and they will quickly polish off any new sprouts before they
can grow into new trees. Even if deer populations are low in your area, if you
create the only new forest opening, deer will come from miles around to feed on
the new growth. Don’t be tempted, however, to forgo the deer fence. You may
have great hunting for a couple of seasons, but hungry deer will polish off all
your regeneration and leave you with an unproductive stand with no cover. On my
properties, I want bedding and feeding areas on the same tract, regardless of
its size. Ideally, I want to create a thicket of bedding and feeding cover with
a well-positioned food plot next to it.

Always take advantage of forest regeneration funding programs in your state.
Every state receives money from the Farm Bill for forestry. Unfortunately,
forestry takes a back seat to farm welfare programs and fire fighting, but
there is often money available through the Forest Land Enhancement Program or
F.L.E.P. You will probably need a management plan written by a private
consulting forester and to apply to the state forestry agency for funding. FLEP
will pay the landowner for site preparation, fencing and planting for
reforestation at the rate of 75% of the cost. I recently managed to obtain
$10,000 for a landowner for his regeneration and food plot project. This money
is sporadically available and in great demand, so you have to relentlessly
pursue it every year to get your share. Another source of funding for wildlife
is the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program or W.H.I.P. This program is
administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. A combination of
funding and some small timber sale income can go a long way to making forest
and habitat improvements. Fencing, herbicide and planting are all expensive
projects. Their cost can be offset by timber income and government funding.

Steve Chilcote, B.S., M.F.R.
Forester, Realtor Associate
(814) 360-4510 or (814) 364-1455
Email: forester@chilcoteforester.com
Web: http://www.chilcoteforester.com/default.htm

Look for the third in this four part series next week, as Steve outlines
planting and regeneration strategies that will result in areas on your land
that are attractive to deer and other wildlife. 
 

Part 3: Once the Harvest is Over
by Steve Chilcote
OK, so you hired a good forester, obtained government funding for regeneration and wildlife planting and marked a good harvest. A good logger was hired by the forester to perform the cutting and hired a fence company and herbicide contractor to take care of the ferns and the deer. It is now time to make some changes to the property. If the logger understands that the ground should be disturbed by spreading out the skidding of the logs and that the marked seed trees are not to be damaged, you should have a clear canvas when the job is done on which to design your deer paradise.

There will be a log landing. This will be turned into a food plot. Work with the logger to make sure the landing is cleared enough to allow planting equipment. It is easier for the logger to leave cutoffs, bark and other unwanted wood on the landing. Make sure it is understood that the landing and skid trails are to be clean before leaving the job. Planting log landings and skid trails is a subject that can be addressed in more detail in another article.

Trees will begin to sprout right away from the stumps. Raspberries, grass, blueberries and trees will spring up and begin to race for the sky. Protecting the new stand from browsing with the fence will allow you to choose what gets to grow, not the deer. I usually plant the best seedlings I can find of fruit-bearing plants. I like to plant a variety of hybrid oaks. My favorite plants to install are the ones that have been missing from the forest. We want to restore the forest to its original productivity before poor wildlife and forest management ruined it. I plant lots of serviceberry, dogwood, vibernum and crabapple along with the hybrid oaks. I also like to plant some American/Chinese chestnuts that some of the nurseries have developed to be blight resistant.

I also like some oaks in the understory. A less expensive way to do this is to collect acorns in the fall and plant them. I float them in a bucket of water and discard the floaters as they are no good. Then place them in sand and cover them with leaves. In spring they will have sent out a root if they are viable. You can plant the acorn or put them in small pots and plant them in the fall after they have developed a root system. This can be a fun family activity if you can get the kids away from the electronics. Good luck.

This is a satisfying activity and it feels good to plant oak trees for the future, but we want instant gratification. We can’t wait around for 60 years for an oak to develop a big crown and produce lots of acorns. So, I usually create an orchard of apple trees. Spend the money and buy good 2 or 3 year seedlings and fertilize them. The hybrid oaks that are specifically bred to produce acorns early should give us acorns soon enough that we can reap the benefits in our lifetime. The oak stump sprouts and naturally seeded oaks are for future generations of hunters and their quarry. Once your new forest is growing, the work is not over. Some of the plants that you installed are going to die. Find out which ones are successful and plant more of them.

You will also need to maintain the fence. Trees will blow down in the winter and crush the fence; bears will climb over and collapse it and so on. If deer can get in, they will flood into the area in the winter and devour everything you worked for. I have had deer come in through the gate to feed while I was working inside a fenced area. When that happens, you need to organize a drive or go hunting. Once a tree blew down and squashed a big section of fence in a 28-acre regeneration area. The landowner drove out 14 deer! Imagine what that concentration of deer can do to the new growth! Deer that figure out they can jump the fence must be shot. A doe that realizes she can do this will teach her subordinates and her fawns. Better to get rid of troublemakers early on. Deer prefer to squeeze under fences rather that jump over. That is why we bend the bottom foot of wire and bury it. It is rare for deer to jump over unless they are being pushed.

As you can see, providing suitable habitat is a little bit of work, but the rewards are well worth it. Join us next week for the last article in this series as Steve discusses follow-up treatments that might be necessary and presents some final thoughts.

Steve Chilcote, B.S., M.F.R.
Forester, Realtor Associate
(814) 360-4510 or (814) 364-1455
Email: forester@chilcoteforester.com
Web: http://www.chilcoteforester.com/default.htm