When a forester says that forestry can benefit wildlife, that statement is not taken lightly. Depending on the landowner, government agency, or stakeholder group, “wildlife” could mean any one of the thousands of species of fauna that occupy or otherwise utilize New Jersey’s forests. A forester will tailor a regime of sustainable forest management practices in order to benefit certain “focal” species that a client or stakeholder desires to promote, depending on the habitat requirements of that species. The habitat requirements for different wildlife species can vary dramatically, and oftentimes conflict with each other. Since there is no “silver bullet” forestry practice that benefits all wildlife, most often a forester will prescribe customized treatments for each of the different areas of a property. These variably treated areas, known as stands, will provide a multitude of benefits to wildlife. Simultaneously, responsibly implemented silviculture will ensure vegetation grows and regenerates under optimal conditions and the appropriate balance between young forest, mid-successional, and old-growth characteristics are maintained. The following are some examples of how forestry can be used to benefit various wildlife species.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is preparing to list the northern long-eared bat (NLEB) as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Although this action is due solely to large-scale mortality by White Nose Syndrome in the Northeast, habitat improvements could be considered to improve conditions for remnant populations. NLEB appears to have four distinct habitat requirements: overwintering habitat, roosting habitat for maternity colonies, roosting habitat for male and non-reproducing female bats, and foraging habitat. Maternity colonies are generally located on snags – particularly those with exfoliating bark – and trees of certain species, usually in forest stands with canopy closure between 60% and 75%, as increased sunlight may speed development of young bats. These areas are at lower stocking levels, as fewer trees may make training flights for young bats easier. Thus, forest stand improvement thinning such or individual tree selection harvests could improve habitat in overstocked stands, particularly when such thinning includes creation of snags. Roosting habitat for males and non-reproducing females, in contrast, utilize areas of higher canopy closure and are often found in riparian buffers and streamside management zones near timber harvests and thinnings. Foraging habitat is also important, as NLEB catches its food not only in mid-air, but also by gleaning insects and spiders from leaves. Here, forestry activities that promote abundant, native tree regeneration (which, in turn, promotes abundant, native insect and spider populations) such as competing understory vegetation control, and intermediate treatments to stimulate or enhance advance regeneration can be of benefit. (Click here to read Allegheny SAF’s comments to the US Fish & Wildlife Service regarding NLEB listing.)
Cerulean warblers (CERW) are birds that are commonly associated with heavily forested landscapes. Yet, despite the persistence of forests in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, CERW continues to suffer range-wide declines. Some of the declines can be explained by loss of forest due to land use conversion. However, the unique nesting and foraging habits seem to be an important reason for declines. CERW has a strong preference for chestnut oak, white oak, hickories, and sugar maple, amongst others, for nesting, where it will build a nest high in the canopy on a lateral branch. However, in overstocked forest stands, such lateral branches in suitable species may be in short supply. Further, extremely shady conditions under an overstocked canopy will reduce the amount of suitable native woody vegetation in the understory, on which CERW forages. CERW also strongly avoids red maple, red oak, black oak, and scarlet oak. Thus, forest thinnings designed to enhance conditions for desirable species, and increase the amount of certain shade-tolerant understory vegetation has been shown to be beneficial to CERW. (Click here to read the CERW management guidelines.)
Bog turtles are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Much of their habitat is wetlands, particularly characterized by mucky soils. While such wetlands are protected by various environmental laws, bog turtles remain under pressure because they need basking habitat, where they can warm themselves in full sunlight. Periodically, areas of such wetlands need group selection cutting in order to prevent trees from invading and degrading basking habitat, or to restore basking habitat where areas have become too shady.
Golden-winged warbler (GWWA) is dependent on a variety of forest age classes in landscapes dominated by forests. However, they breed and fledge in early-successional forest stands often characterized by white oak, pin cherry, and blackberry, amongst others. These young forests usually lack or have little black birch, autumn olive, mountain laurel, and honeysuckle. Following fledging, GWWA will move up to a mile into the surrounding later-successional forest to continue foraging before migration. Thus, silvicultural techniques that promote appropriate stand regeneration such as group selection, small clearcuts, and modified seed tree harvests create and/or enhance breeding and fledging habitat. Post-fledging habitat can be improved through forest stand improvement thinnings and shelterwood harvests, during which time undesired competing understory vegetation can be removed. (Click here to read the GWWA Best Management Practices.)
Barred owl (BADO) is commonly associated with deep forests and forested wetlands. It tends to avoid open areas such as marshes, young forests, and agricultural lands to avoid predation by its more aggressive cousin, the great horned owl. Barred owl nests in hollow trees and snags, and is often associated with the red-shouldered hawk. By working with a professional forester, landowners will avoid harm to BADO by ensuring that adequate habitat, such as existing hollow trees, will remain following regeneration harvests. BADO habitat may also be improved by girdling large diameter trees to create snags or by ensuring coniferous stands of species such as Atlantic white cedar are maintained on the landscape. (Click here for the habitat suitability index models for BADO.)
This is not an exhaustive list of wildlife or silvicultural practices, but rather a sampling of how foresters can – and do – work to improve conditions for wildlife in accordance with the goals and objectives of the forest landowner.