The Young Forest Project

Wildlife Needs Young Forest to Survive

Most people know what old-growth forest is. Same with wetlands. Another type of habitat is less well known, yet every bit as important if we are to have diverse wildlife and a healthy land.

Golden-winged warbler

Golden-winged warblers breed and find food among dense small trees and shrubs of young forest./J. Holtz

It's called young forest, and it's essential for many different animals from small reptiles to large mammals. Many birds need this habitat, too, including ones that breed and nest in mature forest. Young forest is used by rare species of wildlife and by those that are more abundant.

Some of the animals that need young forest are ruffed grouse, American woodcock, and whippoorwill; bobcat and Appalachian and New England cottontail; and box turtle, wood turtle, and green snake. White-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and a broad range of songbirds also rely on the food and cover offered by young forest.

Unfortunately, the amount of this habitat has dwindled over the last 50 years, and as a result, more than 60 kinds of wildlife have suffered serious population declines in New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, and the Midwest.

What is young forest? It's the shoots and sprouts of young trees springing up again in incredible numbers from the root systems of older trees following a timber harvest. It's an old field filling in with saplings and shrubs. It's a swampy tract thick with shrubs. Young forest can be a pine barrens greening up again following a controlled burn carried out by a trained fire crew.

To keep the land healthy, we need a balance of different habitats. As we have come to understand the value of wetlands, we’ve stopped draining them and even begun restoring them. We've protected thousands of acres of older forest, benefiting the animals that live there. Now we must meet the challenge of providing enough young forest for wildlife.

Partners Make It Happen

New England cottontail

Rabbits like this New England cottontail can evade predators in young forest and shrubland./V. Young, NHFG

Collaboration between partners leads to more efficient use of funds and more creation of young forest for the animals that need it. Many agencies, organizations, land trusts, companies, and towns have joined the Young Forest Project and begun making this important habitat on lands they own or manage.

Private landowners are key to this partnership. (Consult the non-technical Young Forest Guide to learn more about creating habitat.) Conservation partners use science-based Best Management Practices to create young forest in locations where it will do the most good to keep common creatures abundant and help wildlife whose numbers have been falling.

Want to see some young forest? A growing network of demonstration areas lets landowners and nature-lovers check out this habitat and the wildlife that thrives there.

We believe that when people understand the importance of young forest and why conservationists are using management techniques to create, renew, and maintain it, they will welcome and support these actions so urgently needed to safeguard our native wildlife.

Making Young Forest

This website introduces the wildlife that depends on young forest. It shows how partners are carefully recreating the kinds of natural events that once provided a steady supply of young forest. It tells the story of how your neighbors – owners of working farms and woodlands - are helping to create this valuable, vibrant habitat.

Family in Wisconsin

The Young Forest Project reaches out to landowners interested in making habitat for wildlife./J. Holtz

If you decide to make some young forest, these contacts can help. Your state wildlife agency can also provide advice. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) help conservation-minded landowners help young-forest wildlife. Organizations like the Ruffed Grouse Society, Pheasants Forever, and National Wild Turkey Federation can also help. Professional foresters can lay out and supervise commercial timber harvests that can generate income while improving conditions for wildlife. For non-commercial projects, full or partial funding may be available.

Forest Doesn't Stay Young Forever

In most cases, young forest lasts only 10 to 20 years before it becomes older forest, often less useful to wildlife. Making and renewing young forest is an ongoing task – and one that can be done in a way that delivers sustainable forest products while providing critically needed homes for our region’s wildlife. This cooperative effort helps preserve our natural heritage for our children and grandchildren.

Welcome to the Young Forest Project.