Choosing to use our land to help native wildlife has been a great experience for us so far. We detailed how we have worked with the government to partner as part of the Cerulean Warbler Project .
Being part of a wildlife conservation partnership has really opened our eyes to lots of ways we can continue to be a good steward of our land and make it welcoming to native species of both plants and animals.
The past year has been a fun one with plenty of work to go around between Gabby and me. We have spent the last two days in the middle of February cutting trees and creating living brush piles for our Cerulean Warbler habitat (and whitetail habitat).
Winter also provides us a great opportunity to “see” the woods and how the animals are using the forest.
Squirrels, deer, bear, rabbits and birds all use your forest a little differently so it’s important to keep them in mind when creating habitat.
Cerulean Warbler Program
The NRCS (National Resource Conservation Service) is responsible for creating habitat for vulnerable and/or threatened species – among many other missions they have.
The Cerulean Warbler is a small bird which winters in South American and returns each spring to breed and rear its young throughout the northern Appalachians.
If you own 10 acres or more of woodland, you can check with your local NRCS office (generally with your local Ag office) and see whether your site is in the right region for the program.
There are several different species that cover most of the Appalachians.
Once it is determined what program is best for you, the NRCS, through the US Farm Bill, will pay the landowner for the practices/management put in place on his or her property.
They will help you determine the plan and which practices need to be completed.
They work with you to spread it across several years and pay you as each practice for that time period is complete.
Yes, again, they pay you for your work on your land and only ask you complete the plan as laid out with the NRCS.
2019 Wildlife Conservation Practices
In 2019, we used a hinge-cutting technique to create living brush piles over 5.7 acres of our property.
The density of hinge-cuts equal 3-4 living brush piles per acre so on our 5.7 acre area we cut 23 living brush piles.
To create a living brush pile, hinge-cut three to four trees felled in a crisscross pattern or pile. The hinge-cut, if done correctly, will allow the tree to continue living albeit laying down and provide a “living brush pile” for wildlife.
For the Cerulean Warbler, it provides cover for the fledglings when they fall from the nest as they learn to fly, and it increases their chance of survival.
For other species such as deer, it puts increased volumes of food within easy reach.
2020 Wildlife Conservation Practices
In 2020, our mission is to complete 11 acres of living brush piles, in conjunction with a timber stand improvement program designed to reduce our basal area from around 120-140 down to around 70-90.
We will likely revisit this lot in the future as we really need to get down to around 40-60 basal area for the best Cerulean Warbler habitat (and whitetail woods).
Additionally, we are cutting an ½ acre clear cut which will create an open, brushy habitat for the birds and a stubble field (woody browse plot) for deer.
Land Preparation Results from 2019
Well, as expected, several of my first attempts at hinge-cutting did not turn out so well.
Many, probably 40% of my initial cuts were too deep into the tree and I lost the tree due to cutting through or as the tree fell the cambium layer was damaged beyond the ability of the tree to recover.
By reducing the basal area (the number of wood/trees per area of calculation – read wood density) by tree removal we allow sunlight to reach the forest floor and promotes forb growth.
By using timber stand improvement practices, we are focusing on removing unwanted species and allowing our wanted trees more nutrition and less competition.
Using the two practices combined, we open our canopy, increase forb growth, create a successional forest, provide more nutrition to our timber and help the wildlife immensely.
So, has it worked?
Truthfully, it is too early to tell. Habitat improvement is a multi-year operation.
Areas cut last year, likely will not see large green ups until year 4 or 5.
Our work done in 2018-2019 is showing increased fore growth based on the opening of the canopy, but even it is still very limited.
We expect the next two years, this summer and next 2021, for it to explode with new vegetation.
On the wildlife side, we can say they are using the habitat at a very high rate.
Cerulean Warblers were present at the start of our work and we will see if they expand their territory to the new work this summer.
Other wildlife are already taking advantage of where they can. 100% of the hinge-cut trees which lived are browsed regularly.
Fresh signs of small game, such as rabbits have increased in the hinge-cut areas and raptors are seen daily in the areas.
We are happy with the progress and happy to be in the woods doing our small part for the wildlife.