Little Trees, Big Benefits

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Published on: Aug. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 15, 2010

with native vegetation in forest openings.

Wildlife species that prefer areas of forest regeneration include popular game species like quail, turkey and deer, as well as bobcats, flying squirrels and Indiana bats. Numerous songbirds thrive in new forest openings. These include the great crested flycatcher, chestnut sided warbler and Carolina wren.

Ruffed grouse also thrive in forest regeneration areas. Sportsman, birdwatchers and hikers are always thrilled to encounter this handsome woodland partridge with its distinctive mating drumming and whirring flight. Wildfires, heavy woodland grazing, forest clearing and market hunting nearly caused the extinction of ruffed grouse in Missouri by the mid 1900s, prompting the Conservation Department to initiate a grouse restoration program in 1959. To date, more than 6,000 grouse have been released in more than half of Missouri's counties. Restocking alone is not enough to ensure success, however. The abundance of adequate woodland habitat in a regeneration condition is also critical.

A large percentage of Missouri's woodlands were last harvested between the late 1800s and the early 1900s. Now, many of Missouri's forests are mature. Although oak-hickory forest can persist in a continually maturing condition for two to three centuries, many habitat benefits of a forest are often lost after just two or three decades of maturation. A trend toward reduced forest harvesting has created a deficit of the desired regeneration habitat. Maintaining an adequate amount of our state's forests in the regenerative condition requires harvesting timber.

The River Hills Forest Habitat Project was recently formed to increase the numbers of ruffed grouse in east-central Missouri. The partnership promotes early forest successional habitat, the lack of which is a limiting factor in the ruffed grouse's population. The project is a joint effort of the National and Missouri chapters of the Ruffed Grouse Society, the Audubon Society of Missouri, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Missouri Department of Conservation. The project targets portions of Warren, Montgomery and Callaway counties that lie north of the Missouri River, south of I-70 and East of Highway 54. Thanks to a grouse restoration program that was completed in this area in the 1970s, the target area contains some of the last significant populations of ruffed grouse in the state.

A common forest management standard is to have 10 percent of the forest cover in a regeneration condition. In most of the project's target area, less than 1 percent of the forest is in suitable condition. To encourage landowners in this area to consider forest regeneration as a component of their overall land management efforts, the partnership offers free technical assistance from wildlife biologists and foresters. It also recommends or provides qualified forestry contractors to implement the proper practices for landowners.

High-priority habitat projects, especially those on property adjoining state conservation areas where forest regeneration is emphasized, such as Daniel Boone and Little Lost Creek conservation areas, are eligible for up to 90 percent cost reduction. Reduced cost for participating landowners is made possible through a matching fund set up by the Ruffed Grouse Society, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Conservation Department. Additional partnerships and matching funds are continually being pursued.

Practices that can be implemented to provide young forest habitat include woodland improvement and woody edge enhancement. Woodland improvement consists mainly of eliminating undesirable tree species (from a timber or wildlife perspective) in a forest stand and providing conditions more conducive to regenerating oak hardwoods. Woody edge enhancement consists primarily of creating small openings in large blocks of mature forest that will stimulate forest regeneration. As part of a landowner's management regime, either or both of the practices provide a multitude of wildlife benefits.

Landowners in the project area, or in other parts of the state, wanting to know more about including forest regeneration in the management of their forest land, should contact their regional Conservation Department office. The River Hills Forest Habitat Project is coordinated through the Central Region office in Columbia and can be reached at (573) 884-6861.

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