When I was a kid in the Ozarks, we heated our house with wood. Daddy always ran the chainsaw, and we kids were the “pile-its.” We often cut wood in the summer, but when the weather started getting cooler, we went at it with a little more purpose. We’d break to warm up with hot chocolate topped with little marshmallows. It was really hard work, but we were outside as a family in the Ozarks. Even that is a memory I cherish.
This fall’s cool breeze reminds me that lots of families are out right now getting ready for winter.
As you head out to your favorite area to cut firewood, keep in mind that trees are habitat for wildlife. In addition, different tree species and tree sizes attract different varieties of wildlife. Both animal populations and healthy forests can be promoted at the same time by the careful selection of trees to be thinned out or removed. This balance is critical in order to meet the objectives and desired future condition and composition of the woodlot.
Many fuel-wood cutters think that just because a tree is hollow it is only good for firewood. Yes, these trees usually produce good fuel wood and are easy to split. No, they are probably not very good for lumber production. However, they do have the potential to provide a den for squirrels, raccoons and other wildlife. Hollow trees can also have the ability to produce mast—or nuts—food that many animals and birds can eat. Many of these “cull” trees are usually much larger in size, are nice to look and add character to the landscape. The same holds true for tree species that are of lower value or poor quality. A few of these trees should be retained for species diversity, wildlife use and aesthetics in the wood lot.
While managing trees and promoting wildlife by means of thinning through fuel wood removal, keep in mind the following tips:
• Think safety first. Wear the proper protective clothing and gear.
• Leave the best trees. These are not always the prettiest. Leave some for wildlife and some for future timber harvest, while removing selected ones for firewood.
• Remove the dead trees. Dead trees usually make excellent heating wood. These can also be dangerous to fell. Watch out for broken tops and limbs while felling. A few dead trees should be left standing in the wood lot. Hawks enjoy perching on the limbs while scanning the forest floor for rodents.
• Build brush piles. The limbs and tops of trees piled together create habitat for rabbits, quail and other small game. These piles also provide nesting areas for turkeys.
So get out there with the family, and don’t forget the hot chocolate. For more information on forest and wildlife management, contact your local Missouri Department of Conservation forester, wildlife biologist or private land conservationist.