WHAT CAN WE DO TO CONSERVE WILDLIFE AND THEIR HABITAT?
Create young forest habitat that many species require
Increase structural complexity of forests by creating different age classes
Enhance old growth characteristics by favoring older, bigger trees and leaving or creating standing dead trees
Make efforts to conserve the extraordinarily biodiverse flora and fauna of Appalachia
WHAT IS WILDLIFE AND HABITAT AND WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT?
Family forest owners can play a vital role in improving wildlife habitat while helping to meet the demand for wood products and enhancing overall forest health, because they own most of the forests in the southern and central Appalachians. Forest landowners can plan timber harvesting to enhance habitat and keep forests forested to benefit the wildlife that depend on the land for their basic needs: food, water, shelter, and sufficient space. Appalachian forests are among the most biologically diverse and productive for wildlife. Structural diversity in forests is important because it provides different habitats for these myriad species. A mixture or mosaic of habitat types and forest ages (young, middle-aged and mature forests) ensures structural diversity across the landscape. Oak dominated forests are essential habitat that sustain wildlife by providing acorns as a durable, nutrient dense food source for many species of wildlife.
One habitat type that has declined significantly in our mostly uniform, even-aged, second-growth forests is very young forests. Many animals rely on young forest openings for good forage on fresh growth and cover in areas of dense regrowth. For example, migratory birds often need open areas for flying, feeding, or breeding. These forest openings are known to attract many game species including quail, grouse, and turkeys, who need the dense shrubby cover for their young and to forage. Also, large game such as deer and bear seek out the lush new growth and berries.
Unfortunately, decades of development have converted woods to other uses, and invasive species, fragmentation, and fire suppression have reduced forest health and optimal habitat structural diversity. Together, these and other pressures have put hundreds of forest-dependent wildlife species at risk. These challenges can be addressed by family forest owners in active, sustainable management practices on an ongoing basis. This will help to create and maintain a rich and diverse forest with habitat components that enable native biodiversity to prosper.
HOW ARE WILDLIFE AND HABITAT INFLUENCED BY FOREST MANAGEMENT?
Forest structural complexity in our current, mostly even-aged, closed-canopy, second-growth forests is lacking. Greater structural diversity can be created through a variety of forest management techniques. Small clearings can be made and old growth characteristics can be enhanced, which can enhance wildlife habitat both within a stand and across the landscape.
Unsustainable logging practices like high-grading (i.e., harvesting only the biggest, most economically valuable trees) degrade the forest for wildlife by removing the best habitat trees often too. Large scale clearcutting drastically converts habitat types without providing refuges for wildlife species that once existed there. Oak stands may not come back from a clearcut or high-grade, and if they do, recovery time is long.
Non-native invasive species decrease habitat quality for native wildlife. Exotic pests, pathogens, animals, and plants directly threaten forest health and degrade habitats often reducing native wildlife. Logging or any forest disturbance can create more young forests, but also makes growing space for invasive plants to spread into and damage habitat. Beneficial forest management must consider habitat quality and control non-native invasive species as well.
Challenges that affect wildlife habitat can be addressed by family forest owners in active, sustainable management practices on an ongoing basis, including restoring native forest types, controlling invasive species, restoring streamside areas, and appropriate timber harvesting practices to create new habitat structures.
WHAT CAN PRIVATE LANDOWNERS DO TO ADVANCE CONSERVATION OF WILDLIFE AND THEIR HABITAT?
Biologists, wildlife managers, and well-trained foresters can tell what wildlife species are on your property and what habitats could potentially be enhanced or created to benefit certain species. Decide what management practices would best maintain or improve essential habitat for native wildlife in your area by consulting local natural resource professionals and agencies (e.g., State Wildlife Commission, US Natural Resource Conservation Service).
By managing your forest, you can create a mosaic of different forest types and ages to attract a variety of both game and non-game wildlife. When harvesting trees for profit, wildlife habitat can also be protected, enhanced, and even created. Non-commercial treatments such as a prescribed burn or a midstory removal may create structural diversity that might be particularly important for certain species. Retaining a full range of tree sizes in uneven-aged forest management or a full range of successional stages in even-aged management across the landscape is vital to forest structural diversity and, hence, biodiversity.
Maintaining enough coarse woody debris (CWD) on harvested sites also provides habitat for amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals. Retain logging residues such as cut tree tops, limbs, and other CWD, and scatter them across the site for wildlife shelter. Retain at least some large, live “legacy” trees as well as trees in declining condition and snags (standing, dead trees). Many animals rely on cavities in trees for shelter. Snags also attract insects which eat the dead wood which, in turn, attract animals from woodpeckers to bears to feed on them. If no snags naturally exist, they can be created using herbicide or the girdling method, while also providing more growing room for desirable competing trees.
Populations of nut producing trees (e.g., oaks and hickories), which provide an essential fat and protein rich food for many wildlife species, are declining and require careful planning to conserve existing ones and ensure regeneration for the future. To conserve birds and bats that roost in trees, time harvests to avoid cutting trees during breeding season and fledging season for these important woodland species. Harvest during the dormant season–primarily late fall and winter—to minimize impacts on most wildlife as well as herbaceous plant populations.