Article #52, October 2001
By Bill Cook
Fall is time when many of us sight-in our bows and rifles and plan to lose a few arrows in the woods. We start to itch in places we haven’t paid any attention to since last year about this time. More than ever, we turn our attention to the woods and the things that live there.
Historically and through today, the word “wildlife” conjures up images of fleeting bucks, exploding grouse, and waterfowl on the wing. Wildlife, to many, means those critters we hunt and fish.
That’s been a time-honored frame of reference, yet we all know there are more animals in the woods than game species. These days, resource managers and the general public have widened the focus to include more non-game species. And that, too, is a good thing.
The great forests of the Upper Peninsula harbor over 450 species of wildlife, just counting those with backbones. That includes birds, fish, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles, most of which we don’t know the names of. The vast majority of them depend upon, or are impacted by, our forests.
To follow that line of thought, this means that most of our wildlife are impacted by forest management, or a lack of forest management. Anything done in the woods, or not done, will result in winners and losers among wildlife species. Saying something is “good for wildlife” usually means just game species. The same thing could just as easily be “not good for wildlife”, if you consider an alternative set of species.
Take clearcutting, for example. It’s aesthetically pleasing if you like ruffed grouse, woodcock, or masked shrews. If you’re more into fishers, ovenbirds, and red-backed salamanders you’ll likely turn your nose up at the harvest job.
On the other hand, if you own forest and prefer to let nature take its course, you’ll be less likely to see the popular species of wildlife because they tend to frequent early successional forest types. But maybe you’re more interested in the less popular wildlife.
Naturally, plant succession in an unmanaged forest will gradually give way to conditions less favorable to early successional wildlife, such as deer and grouse. A forest owner may, or may not, like the seemingly random results of succession.
Adding a landscape perspective to forest management provides the best opportunities to create enough habitat for all wildlife. A red pine plantation in an ocean of pine will add little to the landscape. However, in a landscape dominated by northern hardwoods or farm fields, the plantations will provide elements that add to diversity. The wildlife value of a parcel of property is relative to what surrounds the parcel.
Forestry increasingly integrates the “bigger picture” into managing individual stands of timber. This doesn’t always happen though, for a variety of good, and not so good, reasons.
For private landowners, thinking in landscape terms might mean talking to your neighbors about shared objectives. Some things are possible through cooperation that might not otherwise happen. A single timber sale across property boundaries will usually bring higher stumpage rates than a number of separate sales in different years. Coordinating the harvest may provide habitat options not available on smaller parcels. Additionally, unintended consequences may result if landowners in an area fail to coordinate activities.
The bottom line is that wildlife pays no attention to property boundaries but they do respond to habitat change. To assure the numerous life cycle requirements of hundreds of species, our forests are best managed with as much landscape diversity as possible, including some unmanaged tracts. Forestry gets really exciting when applied outside the small box of just a single interest or two.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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: email@example.com
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