Signs of change and forest rejuvenation showing in Pennsylvania

The northern-most part of State Game Land 278, in Blair County, contained a beautiful stand of timber. The forest canopy towered above the game land road, with many hardwoods – mostly oaks – having trunk diameters measuring over 2 feet. I visit there often – to scout, hunt, or just take a walk with my binoculars and/or camera.

In October, the ground was carpeted with acorns. Bucks rubbed their antlers on saplings and the woods were alive with migrating warblers and other birds.

However, last summer, I suspected that a change was in the wind.

The harvested areas of State Game Lands 278 are already a jungle of life. (Mark Nale)

Red paint and flagging marked some of the hardwood trees. A month or so later, I observed small paint marks on almost all of the larger hardwoods – two or three different colors.

I recognized the process – a timber sale was in the works.

A Pennsylvania Game Commission forester cruised the timber – marking borders and the trees to be saved and cut. Timber companies then sent their own foresters to the stand – identifying species, and measuring and marking trees to be harvested. Each company uses a different color of paint. Bids were made, and the Game Commission selected the winner.

Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when – one day in February – the tranquility of my walk was invaded by the buzz of chainsaws and the rumble of skidders and log trucks. I steered well clear of the activity, but it was difficult not to hear the crash of trees and the loud thump when trunks hit the ground. Giants were being felled.

The logging operation ceased in late spring, and by mid-May, the logging company was repairing the game land access road. Large chunks of the once-beautiful stand of timber looked like a war zone.

I often get emails from people who criticize the Game Commission for selling timber, and Pennsylvania Outdoor News certainly has its share of letters to the editor voicing the same opinion. The usual comment – “They only care about selling trees, not the wildlife” – or something to that effect.

Many people stop thinking after seeing – and judging – the destruction, and leave with a negative impression, but not me. My first thought was – this will be a deer and ruffed grouse paradise in a couple of years.

Although the forest stand could have been “high-ended” – with only the most valuable trees cut – the Game Commission contract required that all of the trees (except those so marked for exclusion) be cut, even if they won’t be used. Although this is more trouble for the logger and lessens the profit made by the commission, the resulting young forest is better for wildlife and future timber growth.

Much has happened on the timber-harvested areas of State Game Land 278 since May. I have seen does with fawns, several bucks in velvet and many wild turkeys – all in the harvest areas. Gone are the wood warblers and some of the other forest-loving birds, but other species have taken their place.

A family of red-headed woodpeckers took up residence in a white oak tree that was left standing for seed. Red-headed woodpeckers are a species in decline and this is possibly the only nesting pair in Blair County. A number of shagbark hickory trees were left un-cut, because their peeling bark makes perfect roosting sites for Indiana and little brown bats. Catbirds, eastern towhees, indigo buntings and common yellowthroats have taken advantage of the newly-created habitat.

I returned to State Game Land  278 yesterday, and I was surprised by the work that Mother Nature has done during the past three months.

What looked barren in May is now a jungle of life. Seedlings are shooting up everywhere – oak, maple, birch, beech and basswood. Blackberries and raspberry canes – both important wildlife species – reach chest high. Goldenrods and milkweeds are providing nectar for bees and butterflies. Elderberries are bearing fruit. A deer paradise already exists in the cut areas!

Even if you appreciate trees, as I do, it is important to understand that timber harvests are a good thing if done correctly. The Quality Deer Management Association, the Ruffed Grouse Society and many other organizations all support wise timber cuts. Valuable and renewable forest products are harvested and, contrary to popular misconceptions, wildlife benefits.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Mark Nale

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