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  • Writer's pictureTim Cartner, RF

Getting an Edge on Your Wildlife Habitat

Where woods meet open land are some of the most critical areas to manage for wildlife. Edges support shade-intolerant fruit, berry, and seed-producing plants that won’t grow under a closed forest canopy. Additionally, their thick, brushy nature makes them ideal areas for cover and nesting.

Managing Edges

You can enhance the quality of your edges by implementing a few of these practices:

  • Daylight woods roads. Cut back trees 10 to 20 feet on each side of roads to allow growth-stimulating sunlight to reach the ground.

  • When clearcutting, create irregular, undulating harvest boundaries rather than straight lines. Doing so creates additional (and a more natural) edge. Multiple small clearcuts will create greater levels of edge habitat than one large one.

Clearcut harvest with abundant wildlife edge habitat
This clearcut harvest created an abundance of edge habitat.
  • Streamside protection zones create edge. Add extra edge to these zones by including buffers around connecting drains and washes.

Seed tree harvest with edge habitat-creating drain buffer
Stream and drain protection zones add additional edge habitat
  • When thinning pine stands, taper your density as you approach an edge. Example: Your timber management target thinning density is a basal area of 80ft²/acre. Starting at 100 feet to the interior of the stand, taper the density down to 40ft²/acre at the forest edge. This gradual density reduction creates a soft, uneven edge, impacting your overall timber returns very little while improving the quality of the habitat.

  • Fell or hinge-cut undesirable trees (sweetgum, maple, elm, cedar) that develop in your edges. Doing so will free up space for desirable species and create brush piles that provide cover for wildlife.

  • The interface of crop field edges and woodland rarely produces a lot for the farmer—most of the growth is sparse and stunted due to shade and roots pulling water and nutrients from the crops. Rather than waste seed and herbicide on these areas, disc them and allow native vegetation to develop. Refresh the areas by discing, mowing, or burning every 2 to 3 years.

Wildlife edge habitat strategies
Improve your wildlife habitat by implementing these strategies
  1. Daylight woods road

  2. Tapered stand density near edges

  3. Scrubby fruit and berry producers

  4. Disced field edge with natural growth

Too many times, I see landowners over-landscape their property, creating tidy edges but lousy wildlife habitat. Good habitat doesn’t look like a golf course. Stop fighting Mother Nature and work with her, letting native vegetation develop. In the long run, it’ll be much less expensive and time-consuming than planting food plots and maintaining orchards.

Native species wildlife food
Given a chance, Mother Nature can produce an abundance of wildlife food.


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