It was a long and cold winter. The deep snow and subzero temperatures have delayed my normal forest management practices.
Now, though, is a great time to catch up. The snow is receding, yet the ground is still frozen, easing access to the lushly forested corners of our properties. Making matters all the more pleasant, the bugs aren’t out yet, and it’s a joy to work in the cool weather of early spring while the world around us comes to life.
For the past two decades I’ve implemented a variety of habitat practices on my 70-acre property near Brainerd. I’m always looking to attract more wildlife to my acreage. So, each winter, I do a timber stand improvement (TSI). My projects are small, usually covering only about a half acre. And I use simple tools — usually just a chain saw and a hand-held brush cutter.
Here’s how TSI works: I start by analyzing a small section of property during winter, when the trees are still bare. This gives me a better view of which species of trees I’ll cut and which ones I’ll leave.
The main goal is opening up the forest canopy, allowing more sunlight to reach the ground. I can tell it’s time to “rejuvenate” the forest by quickly assessing the understory: If I can see for 50 yards or more, with no new growth to obstruct my view, I know it’s time to eliminate some trees.
I don’t remove all the vegetation as one would if performing a clear-cut. Instead I thin the area, cutting less desirable trees and shrubs, but always leaving a variety of species to grow. By opening up the overhead canopy, I’m actually encouraging new growth of trees, shrubs and forbs at ground level. In a few years, my TSI will be so thick with new plants that visibility will be reduced to roughly 15 yards. The resurgence of plant species not only provides food but also protective cover for wildlife such as deer, ruffed grouse, woodcock and a variety of songbirds.
During my TSI efforts, I don’t just randomly destroy trees and shrubs. I’m biased toward plant species that provide food for wildlife in the form of nuts, fruit or buds. Therefore I don’t cut any healthy oak trees unless they’re crowding each other. Deer, bears, turkeys, squirrels and even wood ducks feed on the acorns.
I also leave most birch trees because their catkins are fed upon during winter by ruffed grouse and a variety of finches. Fruit-bearing shrubs like dogwood, chokecherry, nannyberry, serviceberry and high-bush cranberry are also allowed to prosper.
I’m continually amazed at how modest TSI projects — as small as half an acre — can, in just a few years, draw new wildlife to my land. Just because you don’t own heavy-duty logging equipment, or can’t afford to hire a logger, doesn’t mean you can’t micromanage your forest with a simple TSI project.
The results will amaze you.
Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.