Creating Escape Cover


Nearly all animals need cover so they can escape from predators, rest in safety, nest, and raise their young. What kind of cover depends on the wildlife species. Some animals use hollow trees, while others use brushy areas and dense stands of grass.

Downed woody and brushy cover are important for many species of small mammals, ground-nesting birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Downed tree structures (DTS) and edge feathering are among the quickest ways to create cover for a wide number of species. Rabbits, quail, and many songbirds use DTS and edge feathering immediately after construction.

Downed Tree Structures (DTS)

Downed tree structures (DTS) provide an immediate temporary source of woody cover in areas that lack bushes and shrubs. The location and quantity of shrubby cover can determine how much of an area will be available for use. Placing DTS throughout large grassland fields can increase the amount of available habitat for quail and other wildlife.


Drag downed trees to the desired location and place in a loose arrangement. Do not push the downed trees into dense piles. These structures are intended to be open to allow space for the movement of quail and other upland wildlife within the structure.

  • Treat existing grass in the areas where the trees will be placed with an approved contact herbicide before cutting trees. This will create bare ground and provide good growing conditions for annual food plants and shrubs.
  • Choose a minimum of 8 well-branched, durable trees that are at least 20 feet tall (do not count the unbranched trunk) with a trunk approximately 10 inches wide at breast height.
  • Place DTS next to early-successional vegetation such as managed wildlife-friendly grasses/legumes/forbs, field borders, food plots, or cropland.
  • Do not place DTS next to a woody edge and space no more than 100 yards apart.
  • Plant shrubs to create enduring cover benefits.
  • Oak
  • Hickory
  • Cedar
  • Osage orange

Elm, cottonwood, and willow do not make good DTS since they tend to break down quickly and have less dense branching.


Create 0.1–1.0 acre of dense woody cover per 5–40 acres of wildlife-friendly habitat.

Make DTS that measure 30 by 50 feet for a total of 1,500 square feet of habitat. Although wildlife will use woody escape cover as small as a tractor tire, larger patches receive greater use.

It takes three DTS areas of 30 by 50 feet to equal 0.1 acre.


Habitat Hints - Brush Piles

MDC's Jason Jensen explains the proper way to create brush piles when working on your land. Certain brush piles aren't good for habitat.
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Edge Feathering

Edge feathering creates a transitional zone of woody escape cover made of downed trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous vegetation between cropland or grassland and the wooded edge.


Ideally, 10–25 percent of wildlife habitat should consist of dense woody cover.

  • For every 5–40 acres of wildlife habitat, create 0.1–1.0 acre of dense woody cover, 3–12 feet tall with bare ground underneath.
  • Renovate an area that is at least 30 by 50 feet. It takes three, 30-by-50-foot areas to equal 0.1 acre.
  • Pick at least a 30-by-50-foot area where you can cut all trees over 12 feet tall.
    • Leave native shrubs like dogwood or plum if they are less than 12 feet tall.
    • If the shrubs are greater than 12 feet tall, cut them off at ground level and DO NOT TREAT the stumps. Cutting down older stems will encourage new shoot growth.
  • Treat existing grass, especially sod-forming grasses such as tall fescue and smooth brome, with an approved contact herbicide before cutting trees. This will create bare ground and provide good growing conditions for annual food plants and shrubs. 
  • Cut down trees using only chainsaws or tree shears — no bulldozers. Leave trees where they fall or windrow them along the fence or woody draw. DO NOT push the trees into a dense pile.
  • Treat cut tree stumps with an appropriate herbicide to prevent re-sprouting. Do not treat Osage-orange tree stumps when renovating an old hedgerow.
  • Edge feather small sections at a time.
    • Cut 50- to 100-foot-wide sections spaced out every 150 feet.
    • Continue this process each year until the entire fence line or woody draw has been treated.