It was a chilly January afternoon, and I was trekking thru several inches of snow on my way back to the truck. Along the way, I encountered the proverbial fork in the road. Should I continue to follow the farm lane back to the truck, or would it be better to huff it straight through the woods? Sticking to the lane would be the easier option, as bisecting the woods meant crossing several ravines.
Normally, I would have opted for the less demanding route, but this particular block of woods was part of a transformation, and I hadn’t seen the interior since the thinning was completed nearly four years prior. Besides, the opportunity to hunt for signs of wildlife in the snow was too much to pass up.
Growing, Burning and Cutting for Quail
This was the farm of Dr. William and Gail Wright. Not your typical landowners, the Wrights raise and train setters, and the primary objective for their 680 acres is to support bundles of quail. They started assembling their farm in the mid-1980s and then went to work converting the fescue fields to native grass.
Throughout the 1990s the Wrights diligently implemented their prescribed fire regimen on the fields. Then, in 2001, one of my predecessors suggested to William that he also consider burning the woods. Needless to say, the prospect of expanding his acreage of usable quail habitat was too much to resist. From that point on, much of his 400 wooded acres was burned every 1–2 years.
I began working with the Wrights in 2006. William told me that his objective for the woods was to create a savanna-like habitat that would support quail. At that point, much of his timber had seen fire four to five times during the previous six years, and the woody understory layer was largely eliminated. In its place was a decent stand of herbaceous forbs and native cool-season grasses. However, it was still fairly shaded on the ground, so I suggested to William that his woods were ready for phase two of the transformation saga. The previous burning had laid the groundwork, but it was now time to sharpen the saws! In typical William Wright fashion, he jumped on the idea, and within a few months, 50 acres of once closed-canopy woodland was thinned by nearly half.
Now back to that January afternoon: I had inspected this woodland stand several times over the past few