Notes From the Field

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Patch Cuts and Ruffed Grouse



The point was near perfect.  My shorthair stopped on a dime frozen in the typical form that assures the hunter, "this one's for real".  I took two steps, the bird flew, the gun sounded and the deed was done.

As I sat on a nearby stump and accepted the retrieve from my dog, I thought about how this hunt had come to be.  Ten years prior the very spot that produced this experience was an extremely dense tamarack stand that would have held little attraction for a ruffed grouse. Like most softwood species tamarack is even aged, meaning the trees in the stand seed in, grow and usually die at roughly the same time.

This parcel happens to belong to my parents, and about twelve years ago it became obvious that the trees were in decline.  Since a harvest was already scheduled in their Use Value Appraisal management plan for this stand and others, the decision was made to remove the overstory entirely. 

Like most owners, they had some concern about aesthetics.  This location is seven acres in size and is a rectangle bounded by open field and pasture on three sides.  It is also adjacent to the house and yard. To state the obvious, I said that things were going to look different, but that different wasn't bad, and that, in the realm of forestry, nothing is permanent.

The harvest was done in the winter, and things turned out well on that and the other portions of the property. In the spring when the snow melted the full aesthetic impact of the harvest was obvious. It was quite apparent that a lot of trees had been cut in the area, and that there was resulting debris.

Aside from ash in some areas there had been nothing in the understory, and there was little there after the fact. Things were, admittedly, stark and a bit desolate looking. Using the adage that good forestry isn't necessarily pretty, I took a positive view of things.

As spring turned to summer, and things greened up, the area took on a much different look. Popal suckers began to sprout from the roots of those few that were cut. Sedge type species like goldenrod, cinqfoil and dogwoods filled in the wetter areas, and blackberries had taken over others. In a few short months things had already begun to change.

By July, the woodcocks had found the area. I first noticed this one evening when I heard a couple of their distinct calls. By the time fall had rolled around I'd even flushed a few grouse from the edge of the area while walking down the road between it and the rest of the woods.

Though I wasn't surprised by the increased number of birds in the area, wildlife habitat hadn't been the driving force behind the harvest. It was simply a byproduct of sound forest management in this case.

This scenario has repeated itself on other parcels where management strategies called for openings in the canopy. And the benefits aren't just limited to game birds. Deer and numerous songbirds also benefit from this new growth, as does the forest by regenerating an area in decline. So if you’re wondering how to improve wildlife habitat on your property, consider a harvest aimed at implementing group selection or patch cuts.

Josef Peterson, Timbercraft Forestry

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