The Challenge

We're Losing Young Forest on the Land

The landscape in our northeastern and northcentral states has changed. One big difference is the amount of land now covered with houses, roads, and other development. But another, more-subtle transition has also taken place:

Eastern box turtles need young forest.

The Eastern box turtle is one of many wild species that benefit when we create young forest./J. Mays

We now have more mature forest today than we did 50 years ago -- woods that have grown beyond the stage of providing homes for a host of wild creatures from tiny songbirds to large mammals.

In the past, natural forces caused an ebb and flow of many thousands of acres of regrowing forest and shrubland. But we no longer let fires burn unchecked or beavers build dam complexes that flood vast areas of woodland and kill trees – two natural processes that once gave rise to much young forest.

Farmland abandoned in the early twentieth century temporarily provided young forest as shrubs and trees invaded old fields. Today those old fields are a far-reaching expanse of mature woods. What we need now is more young forest, in states from Maine to Virginia and west to Ohio and the Great Lakes.

Young Forest Helps Wildlife

Ample middle-aged and older woodlands now provide habitat for forest wildlife. But consider this: Birds that nest in deep woods, such as hermit thrushes and wood warblers, also need young forest, with its more-abundant fruits and insects, to feed their young and build up fat for migration.

Woodcock use regrowing forest habitat.

American woodcock need young-forest habitat, too./T. Flanigan

Wild turkeys nest in young forest, and black bears wade into shrubs and brambles to gorge on berries and build up fat before hibernating.

A large group of wildlife can’t live in mature woods, and the populations of those animals have been falling: creatures like the wood turtle, ruffed grouse, American woodcock, whip-poor-will, brown thrasher, indigo bunting, New England cottontail, snowshoe hare, and bobcat. More than 60 reptiles, birds, and mammals – all of which need young forest – have been designated species of greatest conservation need in the Northcentral and Northeast.

Can't We Just Let Nature Take Its Course?

Here’s what will happen if we fail to actively create and renew young forest:

Many songbirds will rarely be seen or heard.

Mammals like the New England cottontail and Appalachian cottontail could end up on the Endangered Species list – and maybe even go extinct.

We can reverse this trend by making more young forest for the animals that need it. It won't be an easy task. But with your help, a solution is within reach.