Winter is a busy time for the landowner who wants to attract more wildlife to his or her property. Currently the leaves are down and there is enough snow on the ground to allow someone to analyze the habitat with greater clarity than during the warmer months. Also, working in the woods during winter is much more comfortable compared with summer — even when the temperature is below zero.
What follows are three winter projects a landowner should consider:
Open a forest canopy
The basic goal of a timber stand improvement (known as TSIs in land management circles) is to open up a forest canopy. This allows more sunlight to reach the ground, which ultimately produces a resurgence of various plant species that deer, ruffed grouse and other wildlife feed on and use for cover.
Start your TSI by analyzing a small section of your acreage. If the understory allows you an unobstructed view of, say, 50 yards, it's time to 'rejuvenate' your forest.
I don't recommend cutting all the trees during your TSI. Instead, thin the area by cutting less desirable trees, and leave the wanted species to propagate. In my case, I leave most birch and oak trees, and sometimes other species like ironwood and various species of evergreens. The birches provide winter food for various species of songbirds, such as goldfinches and redpolls. They are good for ruffed grouse, too.
Oak trees supply acorns relished by many species of wildlife, including deer and turkeys. I also leave most fruit-bearing shrubs.
Clear for a future food plot
Consider this before you start to clear for a wildlife food plot. Will it contain quality soil and exposure to sunlight? If you will hunt deer over your future food plot, is the location close to where deer bed during the day? Does the site allow you to get to your deer stand undetected by deer? Is the spot visible from nearby roads?
If so, consider planting several rows of evergreens on the edge of your plot to create a sight barrier.
Consider the habitats that are present, too. Preserve any favorable environments like oak tree flats and evergreen stands. Both provide food and cover for many species of wildlife.
Create wildlife travel barriers
Cuttings from your TSI and food plot projects can be used as hideouts for wildlife. Lay logs across each other in several layers. Then stack smaller trees and branches on top of the logs. The resulting brush pile will attract rabbits, hares and other species of wildlife.
You can also use downed trees to create natural fences. The fences can be figured to guide deer past your hunting stand. Tracks in the snow can help you determine where to place the felled trees.
Be sure to follow all safety recommendations before launching into any project. When operating a chain saw or brush cutter, wear a helmet as well as ear and eye protection. Let someone know where and when you are working in the woods. Carry a cellphone in case of emergency.
Take pride in your habitat work. You'll be amazed at how even small projects of an acre or less will attract and hold wildlife.
Most of all, have fun.
Bill Marchel is an outdoors writer and photographer. He lives near Brainerd.