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.
Harvesting timber on steep slopes can lead to erosion. Cutting trees that cast shade on temporary woodland pools (also called vernal pools) may cause those features to dry up, stranding young salamanders and frogs before they’ve had the time to grow and develop, emerge from the water, and take up their 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 forest remain for wildlife that needs that 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. State and federal wildlife agencies can offer advice on how to plan and integrate habitat-creation activities so the environment is helped and not harmed.
A Landowner's Guide: Wildlife Habitat Management for Lands in Vermont has application in many other parts of the Northeast. This general overview offers advice on making young forest and shrubland to help forest songbirds, snowshoe hare, ruffed grouse, American woodcock, and many other animals.