Heartland Outdoors: Conservation Corner

Forest Management for Wildlife

Monday, February 05

Just as croplands can produce crops yet yield habitat for wildlife, forestlands can be managed to produce wood products and at the same time benefit wildlife.

Managing a forest with wildlife in mind is like shooting at a moving target. As the trees and other plants in a forest grow and change, the structure, size and species of trees and other plants changes. That shift in habitat also means there will be a shift in wildlife species that live in the forest at the time. For example, the seeds and fruits of shrubs, grasses and forbs in the early successional stage, after a harvest or other major disturbance, are just what songbirds and small mammals want. On the other hand, woodpeckers, wood ducks, bats and other cavity-nesters want the dead snags and den trees of a mature forest.

For the greatest diversity in wildlife, you want diversity in the size, age and structure of the forest. That can be achieved with selective harvesting of single trees, to always leave a canopy, or by clear-cutting small areas of a forest (15 acres or less) at different times, resulting in several successional stages of even-aged stands of trees within the forest. The flush of plant growth in clear-cut areas last for several years.

Techniques to improve fish and wildlife habitat include:

1) Regenerate new growth in open spaces. This may be done by prescribed burning, timber stand improvement and using herbicides, or planting seedlings.

2) Thin stands; remove weak trees and remove invasive species of trees and shrubs.   

3) Plan carefully to carry out a prescribed burn; studies show most wildlife escape, and the new plant growth afterwards attracts wild turkeys, northern bobwhite quail, and more.

4) Maintain forested riparian zones along streams, to allow stream shading and for wood to fall into streams. The leaves, limbs, fruit and insects that fall from streamside forests into the stream build the food supply for fish.

5) Leave snags and den trees.

6) Follow a forest management plan.

A variety of federal, state, and private organizations give both technical and financial help in managing forests for profit and wildlife.  NRCS has financial assistance programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program CSP, and Environmental Quality Incentives Program EQIP that can assist with some of these practices.  Having a forest management plan developed by a private consulting forester can help you better qualify for financial assistance and be eligible for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Development Act FDA program. 

NRCS offers incentives for development of forest management plans for woodlands larger than 10 acres in size.  Those plans can be utilized to apply for cost share funding to implement forestry implementation practices written into a forest plan.  Some of the EQIP conservation practices for Forest Management Implementation include:  Brush Management (bush honeysuckle, autumn olive) Forest Stand Improvement, Prescribed burning, Riparian Forest Buffer, Tree/shrub establishment, tree/shrub site preparation.


If your forest Management plan is written to DNR Forest Development Act Requirements, you can apply for the tax reduction on forest acres to one sixth of the ag value of the land. 


To apply for a forest Management Plan contact your local USDA NRCS office.



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