Harvesting Trees

Making different age classes of woodland helps wildlife by creating a richer and more-diverse habitat that benefits a broad range of creatures and not just a select few. Forests are also better able to resist disease, insect outbreaks, and other stresses if they have trees of varying species and ages.


Different timber-harvesting techniques can be used to create young forest for wildlife.

At first a logging job looks messy, like a bad haircut or a recently picked cornfield. But in just one growing season, the stumps, root systems, and nuts of harvested trees start sending up thousands of new little trees to cloak the land. Light reaching the ground spurs the growth of food-producing plants such as blueberries, huckleberries, pokeweed, wild strawberries, blackberries, grasses, sedges, and wildflowers.

As it quickly grows and greens up, the resulting young forest offers food and cover to a tremendous range of songbirds, including many that nest in nearby older woods. American woodcock use newly logged sites as springtime singing grounds. Areas of young forest attract small mammals, such as mice and voles, and the predators that hunt them. New England cottontails, eastern cottontails, snowshoe hares, white-tailed deer, and black bears use young forest for food and cover. Box turtles and wood turtles venture onto recently logged land to dine on fruits, seeds, and insects, and to lay their eggs in sun-warmed soil. Human hunters pursuing gamebirds and big game find their quarry on regrowing logged land as well.
Different forestry techniques can be used to create young forest, including even aged (or clearcut), seed-tree, and shelterwood harvests. Some tree harvests are considered “commercial” (returning a profit to the landowner), while others are “noncommercial” (not resulting in income but delivering other benefits, such as better habitat for wildlife).

If trees are cut in winter when they store energy in their root systems, during the following growing season those roots will send up thousands of new shoots. Habitat created through timber harvesting generally remains as productive young forest for 10 to 20 years.

Consult with a professional forester, wildlife biologist, or natural resource professional to learn more. These contacts can provide help. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS, offers advice and funding to private landowners who want to make young forest for wildlife.

For more information, see Managing Regenerating Young Forest Habitat, in Managing Grasslands, Shrublands and Young Forest Habitats for Wildlife.

These Landowner Guides to a Successful Timber Harvest offer practical information. Although focused on Vermont, the guides include good basic information that applies throughout the Northeast and Upper Midwest.

A wide range of conservation partners have created habitat demonstration areas where people can go see young forest and view the wildlife that these areas readily attract.