Wildlife is one of the most important topics for Forest Stewardship landowners. Quality wildlife habitat includes the right combinations of food, cover and water. While food plots can supplement habitat, they are no substitute for healthy, diverse forested landscapes in providing habitat for diverse and abundant wildlife populations. Food plots can also be expensive and susceptible to failures due to climactic extremes, insects or diseases. Managing native vegetation in permanent wildlife openings is less costly and can be very effective.
Food is the first essential element that you can help provide for wildlife on your land. Food requirements vary among wildlife species.
Mast is the term used to describe the seeds and fruits of plants which are eaten by animals. Mast is most likely one of the most important naturally-occurring wildlife food sources on your property.
There are 2 types of mast available to wildlife:
- Hard mast is the nuts and twigs of trees and shrubs. Acorns, produced by oaks, are an important type of hard mast.
- Soft mast is the seeds, catkins, and berries produced by plants. Walnut, hickory and other trees produce soft mast.
It is very important to consider the fruiting patterns of mast-producing plants so decisions can be made about their managment. Fruiting habits vary by species and locality and among trees of a species.
For example, white oaks flower and bear fruit in one growing season, so the acorns of white oaks are found on the current year's growth. Red oaks flower and bear fruit in one growing season, but the acorns are not mature until the following season.
Such differences make it desirable to have a variety of mast-producing species such as hickories (Carya spp.), black gum (Nyssa sylvatica var. sylvatica), dogwood (Cornus spp.), and others as well as oaks (Quercus spp.) on your property so that food is available in each season.
For more detailed information on mast, read the University of Florida Extension publication, Making the Most of Your Mast.
Methods of Providing Food
An edge is a place where different plant communities, successional stages or vegetative conditions meet. Shrubs, vines, and other important wildlife food plants can be planted or managed for along the edges of fields, lawns, plantations, roads, water bodies or other openings. These plants also serve as cover and may improve the aesthetic qualities of the property.
Edge plantings should be at least 20 feet in width. Removing trees and allowing natural succession to take place is usually adequate to promote growth of shrubs and vines. If shrubs and vines fail to take root on an edge, planting may be necessary.
- A clever and inexpensive way to plant these areas is to plow a strip, then stretch a wire or cord between poles along the center. Birds will perch on the line and do the planting for you.
If you want more control over plant species, transplanting from elsewhere on the property may be a relatively inexpensive solution. A more costly alternative is to order nursery stock. Wax myrtle, autumn olive, Russian olive, native hollies, mountain laurel, hawthorn, crabapple, dogwood, wild plums, bicolor lespedeza, sumac, and blueberries are some species suitable for edge planting. Allow these species to grow into solid thickets, which will provide both food and cover.
If you need to remove trees to provide sufficient light to plantings, consideration should be given to which trees are removed. Cherries, apples, and nut producers have high food value, so it will be beneficial to leave a few of these scattered along the edge strips.
Food plots are somewhat costly, but they provide food for deer, rabbits, racoons, game birds, and other animals. This method involves planting fields with grain, corn, legumes, and other plants having ultra-high nutritional value for wildlife.
The size of food plots varies, but are usually 1/8 to 1 acre in size. Plantings can be done annually on an entire plot or the field can be divided into strips. Each year a different strip can be plowed and planted.
- According to the Woodland Steward by James Fazio, the recommended yearly sequence of working strips is 1 - 3 - 5 - 2 - 4.
As with any crop, site preparation, fertilization, and suitability of the soil for the crop are important considerations when planning food plots. Contact your local fish and game department, the Soil Conservation Service, or the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service for advice on what crops to plant in order to meet your objectives, what site preparation treatments are necessary for those crops, and the suitability of the soil on your property for the desired crops.
See these Extension publications providing detailed information on agronomic wildlife forages:
A Walk on the Wild Side: 2007 Cool-Season Forage Recommendations for
Wildlife Food Plots in North Florida
2007 Wildlife Forages for North Florida - Part I: Cool Season Food Plots
A Native Growing Season Forage for Wildlife - Teaweed, Sida acuta Burm. f
Establishing and Maintaining Wildlife Food Sources
Fruit & Nut Plantations
Fruit and nut plantations are another way to attract wildlife to your property. Faster-maturing species like sawtooth oak, red mulberry, honey locust, common persimmon, black cherry, and Chinese chestnuts should produce fruit by age 10.
Once these mast producers bear fruit, monitor them for about 3 years and note which trees are productive and which ones are not. As thinning becomes necessary, remove the poor-producing trees to provide additional light and space for the best-producing trees. See our Mid-rotation Treatments page for more information about thinning.
In the case of dioecious* species such as red mulberry and common persimmon, only the female trees bear fruit. Remove most of the male trees but leave a few for pollination; only a small number are necessary.
*Dioecious: male and female reproductive structures are on separate plants.
Maintaining Open Spaces
Deer, certain bird species, and other wildlife require open spaces. Grasses, insects, berries, small mammals, nesting habitat, and space to watch for predators and for territorial displays are all found in open spaces.
Lack of open space is a problem that is becoming significant in the eastern United States. This problem can be easily corrected by regular mowing in open field areas. If planned properly, these mowed areas may contribute to the visual qualities of the property and can serve as good fire breaks. Visit our Mid-rotation Treatments page for more information about fire breaks.
Use these rules of thumb for planting to attract wildlife:
- When planting areas of 5 to 10 acres, leave openings of approximately 66 feet (1 chain) between the planted area and existing forest.
- For areas greater than 10 acres, leave numerous small openings scattered throughout the plantation.
Visit our Planting page for more detailed information about planting pines.
A Case Study: Wildlife Management on Westvaco lands in the ACE Basin of South Carolina
Westvaco, a large wood fiber-producing corporation incorporates wildlife management on their properties in the ACE Basin of South Carolina. Westvaco foresters plant trees in alternating strips with unplanted strips. The unplanted strips are given one or more of the following treatments:
- Disked and mowed for natural grasses
- Planted with crimson clover in the fall
- Left undisked on the edges so tall plants can grow to "blend" the edge
- Planted with mixtures of sunflowers, soybeans, millet, and wheat
Basic guidelines that Westvaco uses to manage for deer are to create edges with honeysuckle, blackberry, and greenbriar. Turkeys require a mosaic of stand ages, with about 40 acres in each age group, and feed on a variety of insects, vegetation, and snails. Stands with sufficient vertical structure are used for nesting.
Cover is an essential element of wildlife habitat that forest landowners can easily provide. Wildlife require cover for escape, nesting, and protection from weather.
Nesting, Hiding, and Escape Cover
There are 3 general ways to improve nesting, hiding, and escape cover for wildlife on your property:
- Herbaceous Openings
Herbaceous openings are areas where the ground is covered with a mixture of grasses and other herbaceous (nonwoody) plants. These areas are important for escape, nesting, brood rearing, and food for a variety of birds and mammals such as cottontail rabbits and broods of ruffed grouse, quail, and turkey.
- Shrub or Seedling Brush Areas
These areas are valuable as nesting cover, escape cover and as a food source for a variety of birds and mammals. Allow some areas of trees and shrubs to grow more densely than silvicultural guidelines for timber might dictate. If you are managing planted pines, leave untreated (no herbicide or mowing) strips every 8-10 rows.
- Brush Piles
These provide cover for small birds and mammals. Creating brush piles can also assist with brush control after logging. Keep in mind that brush piles useful to wildlife must have space within to allow movement.
There may be several good nest sites that already exist on your property, and you should be aware of these so they continue to benefit cavity-using wildlife species.
One of the most important naturally-occurring nest cavity sites is the snag. A snag is a standing dead or dying tree that is suitable as a perch or nest site for cavity-using birds and mammals. Snags provide both food (insects) and cover, which makes them very important to the distribution and abundance of many wildlife species. Snags are produced naturally by fire, disease, lightning, flooding, and drought.
Woodpeckers and other small birds feed on insects that are found on snags, and birds of prey frequently use snags as hunting perches. Songbirds that occupy edge or open habitats use snags as singing perches. Woodpeckers use resonant undecayed portions of snags as drumming sites for territorial signals.
- Forest managers across the south are discovering that by allowing four species of woodpeckers to reside on the land, about 65% of adult southern pine beetles can be destroyed. Also consider the number and variety of insects consumed by other birds.
Primary cavity nesters depend on trees with fungal heartrots because such trees have softened heartwood allowing easier excavation. It is possible to detect suitable nest site conditions by observing any of the following snag characteristics:
- fungal conks (fruiting bodies) of heartrot species
- dead branch sites
- old wounds on trees
- discolored or soft, decayed wood in increment borer corings
- existing woodpecker holes or cavities
- obvious dead portions of trees
When harvesting timber using even-aged reproduction methods (i.e., clearcuts, shelterwood, seed tree), leave three suitable snags for every 400 feet of edge. Snags should be within 50 feet of the edge of the cut area. On average, 3-5 snags left per acre is sufficient.
Other natural nest sites that may exist on your property may be found in or near wetlands or ponds. Under natural conditions, waterfowl often use mounds of soil, muskrat houses, and large rocks for nest sites. Whenever possible, these structures should be maintained.
Prescribed fire is an important timber and wildlife managment tool in southern forests and wildlife habitat changes associated with fire can be dramatic. Fire benefits most wildlife species by providing:
- open habitat conditions preferred by quail, turkey and deer
- a flush of new herbaceous plant growth for wildlife browse
- increased insect and seed production for small mammals and birds
Wildlife diversity and populations increase with a mosaic of successional stages created by a variety of burned and unburned areas over time. For best results:
- vary seasons and intervals of fire
- burn small units
- increase patchiness of burns
It is important to recognize that livestock will compete with wildlife for food. Livestock animals should be restricted to fenced pastures.
If you incorporate wildlife into your management objectives there are some points to consider before making final decisions.
Use Native Species
One of the most fundamental goals of wildlife managment anywhere is to maintain or restore as many "native" populations as possible. The word native is used loosely here because of the dramatic changes that have taken place to the Florida landscape since hunter-gatherer times. Put practically, plant and animal species that are best suited to the site should be managed for.
It is always best to learn about exotic species before planting them because many have the potential to disrupt the balance of native communities.
Visit our Forest Resources section to learn more about invasive exotic plants.
Try to Enhance Diversity
When planting trees for timber production, leave some areas of hardwoods to compliment biological diversity. Pines and hardwoods, though not always economically compatible are very good combinations for creating habitat diversity. Various plant and animal species are associated with different stages of plant succession. Balancing the age structure of a forest accomplishes 2 objectives:
- sustained yield of forest products, and
- diverse wildlife habitat
Since wildlife habitat and timber production have some differing managerial requirements, a small amount of timber production may have to be sacrificed if you are going to meet certain wildlife habitat objectives. As always, seek the assistance of professionals so you can take the most cost-efficient route to meeting your objectives. See our Businesses & Services page for lists of wildlife consultants and consulting foresters.
If you would like to learn more about wildlife or how to manage for specific wildlife species, click on the links below:
- University of Florida Wildlife Extension
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
- Wildlife Extension Publications
- American Forest Foundation - Center for Conservation Solutions
Florida's Forest Stewardship Program offers a great opportunity for landowners to work with natural resource professionals to develop a management plan that addresses wildlife habitat and other objectives. Contact a Forest Stewardship Program representative to get started in this process.
- Return to Other Forest Values