Working on the land for wildlife
For those of us who enjoy working on the land, March is a great time to be out in the woods.
This is a good time to walk the woods and, besides looking for shed antlers, look at the trees to identify what species you have. For hunters who don’t own land, it’s an opportunity to walk the woods with the landowner and learn where help is needed.
One activity is cutting some of the trees that have very little value to wildlife, such as box elder and elm, which will probably die from Dutch elm disease in a few years. By opening the woods you give an advantage (via more sunlight and nutrients) to oak, walnut, hickory, aspen, cherry, and species that in the future provide lumber, but also mast for wildlife.
I think it’s best to work with a forester, either the DNR forester in your county or a private consulting forester, who will give you an idea of activities to consider depending on your long term plan for the woods.
One thing that a forester marked in our woodland recently are “crop trees,” those trees that have the potential to grow straight and have good form and will provide excellent quality of timber in the future. These trees can help landowners to make some money to pay their taxes, and retaining healthy trees while weeding out the weak is a way of improving the forest and providing wildlife habitat.
With the “crop trees” marked, we then go in and trim off the lower branches up to about 15 feet, without removing more than one third of the leaf surface of the tree, to provide a trunk that is free of limbs and resulting knots.
We do this in winter because we are aware of oak wilt, a serious disease that is caused by a fungus. That fungus is spread when an oak limb is sawed or torn off by wind or a storm during the growing season and the leaking sap attracts sap beetles. Beetles that come in from an infected tree spread the disease, which can kill the tree. And it can then be spread underground from an infected tree to other nearby oaks if the roots have interconnected to each other.
Oaks provide a “foot plot” for wildlife for decades and are too important to lose.
In Wisconsin, general guidelines are not to prune oaks from April 1 (depending on what part of the state the land is located) to late summer, but I prefer to not cut them until well into November. So, from December through March is a great time if you need to trim any oak and to trim adjacent trees that possibly could cause damage to nearby oaks when felled.
The goal is to try to leave the land better than the way we found it.