5 acres every 5 years to keep 5 percent of your woods young

Here’s one approach to making young forest: A landowner – or someone who takes care of forested land for a town, land trust, hunting club, Audubon chapter, or other conservation organization – can divide a woodland into blocks 5 acres and larger and harvest the trees on one or more of those blocks every 5 years, so that areas of young forest and shrubland continually cycle through the property.

Habitat Diversity is Key

The goal is to keep at least 5 percent of the woods in a young growth stage, encouraging a mix of different-aged trees as well as different types of trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers – a diversity of plants that will support a broad range of wildlife.

Young forest becomes less useful to certain animals – New England cottontails, American woodcock, ruffed grouse, and many songbirds, for example – after around 20 years. Renewing young forest can be a long-term commitment with activities planned well into the future. Landowners can cooperate with their neighbors to put together larger projects taking in several properties.

Where Not to Make Young Forest

It’s important to identify areas where we can help the greatest number of animals by making and refreshing young forest and shrubland. It’s just as important to know where not to create it.

Hiker stops to check out young aspen trees sprouting on a young forest habitat project.
Richard Martin
At Litchfield Hills Audubon's Twin Brook Farm in western Connecticut, trees sprout prolifically following timber harvests to add a young forest component to the sanctuary.

Harvesting timber on steep slopes can lead to erosion. Cutting trees that cast shade on temporary woodland ponds (also called vernal pools) may cause those features to dry up, stranding young salamanders and frogs before they’ve had time to develop, leave the water, and take up adult lives on land.

Let Blocks of Older Forest Remain

In areas that already have ample young forest, it may be best to let large blocks of older, mature forest remain for the wildlife that needs such habitat. Landowners may decide to let stands of high-quality hardwoods keep growing so they’ll produce valuable wood products in the future. (Consult a professional forester or a wildlife biologist when planning any timber harvest.)

Protect Special Communities

Always make sure to protect the habitats of rare, endangered, or threatened animals or plants, or special natural communities. Specialists with state and federal wildlife agencies can offer advice on how to plan and integrate habitat-creation activities so that the overall environment is helped and not harmed.