Article #25, July 1999
By Bill Cook
Most wildlife managers don’t manage wildlife. They manage vegetation … or habitat. And most wildlife habitat is not managed by wildlife professionals. It’s managed by foresters, forest owners, loggers, farmers, housing developers, and many others. The term “habitat” frequently gets batted around and battered up. Sometimes it is even used an excuse to do some rather strange things to forests. Let’s take a look at the two words “habitat” and “wildlife”.
Habitat refers to the environment meets the life requirements of a species. Generally, we consider factors like shelter, food, water, and space. There are specialized habitats for activities like courting, breeding, loafing, hibernating, etc. We also must remember that species requirements change over time, like summer vs. winter habitat. And requirements will change with various stages in the life cycle of some species. What constitutes “good” habitat can become mighty complicated when we think of all these situations, and then multiply it by the 300 or so species of vertebrates in the Upper Peninsula!
Wildlife, too, has simpler and more complicated meanings. Historically, wildlife meant only those critters we hunted, caused us grief, or those protected by law. Thus, many folks think only of animals such as deer, grouse, mice, rats, and Kirtland warblers when they hear the word wildlife. However, resource managers are becoming increasingly concerned about maintaining a variety of forested conditions to provide for all species of wildlife, not just the popular or well-known ones.
To understand the relationship between wildlife and habitat, one must explore at least two major areas of interest. First, we need to know what the requirements of each species are. Unfortunately, we don’t know this for many animals. Second, we must understand forest ecology from a habitat perspective. Many inter-related factors must be thought about if we are to have more meaningful forest and wildlife management practices. In this area, there is considerable experience.
Think of forests. Most U.P. wildlife species are at least partially dependent upon forested systems. Basically we are talking about manipulating conditions to provide a mix of habitats. This large mix must occur across the landscape. It is impossible to meet all requirements for all species on just 40 acres, or even larger tracts. Some species have needs that just don’t fit together. It is unusual to find red-backed salamanders and white-tailed deer in the same forest stand.
Manipulating forests to improve wildlife habitat requires a manager to think in terms of large areas over time. Forests are dynamic systems that change continually. Humans can impact the systems to better provide the kinds of forest that meet our expectations. Managing for wildlife habitat can be expensive, often beyond the means of most forest owners.
Timber sales offer an excellent opportunity to pay for habitat management while providing income and supplying raw materials for everyday products. Many foresters understand that private forest owners frequently have timber sales with the primary objective of improving wildlife habitat. Of course, a harvest will not necessarily accomplish every wildlife objective but it is compatible with a great many of them. Working with a forester that has a good understanding of habitat requirements is important. As one begins to better understand forest conditions and wildlife impacts, the more obvious the role of timber sales become. It’s often like having your cake and eating it, too.
Public perception of the relationship between forestry and wildlife seems to have grown confused to the point where they sometimes appear incompatible. Some forest owners have adopted attitudes excluding timber harvest in order to “preserve” wildlife. In most cases, these good intentions backfire and result in fewer observable wildlife species. Forest health may also decline. This becomes increasingly evident over the longer term.
The complex of animal species, changing forests, and human influence can be a challenge to understand and apply to your own property. Developing a forest management plan can be a straight-forward harvest schedule or can grow quite profound as one considers the larger stewardship picture. In either case, the assistance of a forester with whom you trust is really rather important. For many forest owners, timber harvest and wildlife management fit like hand and glove.
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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at email@example.com or 906-786-1575.
by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005
J Road, Escanaba, MI 49829
906-786-1575 (voice), 906-786-9370 (fax), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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