Wildlife Needs Thick Places

Young forest and shrubland are short-lived habitats – usually only 10 to 20 years. After that, small trees grow tall, shading out the dense, low plants that many animals require for food and cover.

We need mature woods for storing carbon from the atmosphere, cleansing our water, offering solitude and recreation, and providing habitat for animals that use middle-aged and older forest. But young forests and areas of native shrubs are important, too.

Disturbances are Nature's Way

New England cottontail hiding in thick young forest habitat.
Amanda Cheeseman
New England cottontails use young forest and shrubland for feeding, rearing young, and avoiding predators.

We no longer let wildfires burn unchecked, removing older trees that were once replaced by new growth. We prevent beavers from building extensive dam complexes that flood many acres and kill trees – areas that, in the past, would have become young forest and shrubland after the beavers moved on. Big storms still blow down trees and create young forest, but often not in places where wildlife needs it the most.

Mimicking Disturbance Events

Habitat biologists, foresters, and landowners can mimic natural disturbance events. Science-based practices remove some older trees to let sunlight reach the ground again, jump-starting grasses, wildflowers, berry bushes, and seedling trees used by a host of wildlife from beneficial pollinating insects to magnificent black bears and moose. Many songbirds take their fledglings to such areas, where the young birds can feed on extra-abundant insects and fruits while the dense stems protect them from predators.

Mosaics Yield a Healthier Forest

State and federal agencies, nature and wildlife organizations, land trusts, forest products companies, towns and counties, and private landowners are working to create forests of different ages. Their efforts build a mosaic of different habitats, ensuring richer and more-diverse woodlands that are more resilient to insect pests and diseases than a forest with only a few kinds of trees that are mainly of the same age. Wildlife benefits greatly.

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