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Early Growth Forest Important For Wildlife

August 1, 2009
By Dan Boss, Petoskey News-Review

A wildlife habitat improvement project that involves cutting trees in Emmet County could help grow the number of American woodcock and other species of animals living there.

The work is being done at Maple River Farm near Pellston. It’s part of the Conservation Resource Alliance’s (CRA) Wild Link Program, which helps landowners improve wildlife habitat on their property.

Biologists have put a rotational alder cutting plan in place at Maple River Farm to help regenerate Early Successional Forest Habitat (ESFH). “The point of the project is to make conditions right for alder to regenerate so it doesn’t get outcompeted by other species,” said Eric Ellis, CRA Biologist. “Once alder is lost it’s very difficult to get it back,” he said.

Species including American woodcock and Golden-winged warblers use ESFH to nest and raise their young. “They need it to survive,” said Ellis.

Numbers of both species have declined steadily since the 1970’s. That decline is blamed on habitat loss.

The work at Maple River Farm involves clear cutting seventy foot wide strips of alder. Four years later the adjacent seventy foot strip is cut. That pattern continues for twenty years until the first strip is cut again to start a new rotation.

“We want to create different age classes of alder,” said Ellis. “We’re not saying old growth forest is bad, but young growth is equally important,” he said.

The DNR estimates fifty-six percent of the ESFH in Michigan is on private land. That’s why CRA is working with property owners to manage alder and aspen stands.

“Without cutting the only way to get ESFH back is to have a catastrophic wildfire or tornado,” said Ellis. “If you don’t cut you not only lose the trees, you lose all the animals that need them,” he said.

The rotational alder cutting program at Maple River farm started in 2005. Since then national and international woodcock experts have visited the site to see how it’s being managed. “We want to have a diversity of habitat to have a maximum diversity of wildlife,” said Ellis.

The Wild Link program has received financial support from the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation, the Frey Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In the past two years CRA has also started similar rotational cutting programs at other sites in Northwest Lower Michigan.

For more information on Wild Link and other CRA programs go to rivercare.org.


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