Top 10 forest wildlife habitat tips

Develop a long-term plan

Thoughtful planning for the habitats and wildlife on your land will increase your success.  Development of realistic goals is important.  Consider your values, life stage, landscape, ecosystem and its characteristics (climate, geology, topography, soils, hydrology, vegetation) to determine your goals and the most appropriate and effective management practices.  A great place to start is the Forest Stewardship Program.

Maintain large, unfragmented, undeveloped habitat patches

Subdivision and subsequent development of forest tracts and fragmentation and degradation of habitat is a major negative pressure on forest ecosystems.  Utilize incentives such as property tax relief programs and other land protection options.

Encourage native plants

Learn to understand, appreciate and manage the native plants, habitats and wildlife that occur on your land. They evolved with and are adapted to conditions in your landscape.  Encouraging natives will be less costly and time consuming vs. non-native species, and result in greater success.  Native trees and shrubs that produce mast (nuts, seeds, buds, catkins, fruits) are especially attractive to wildlife.

Maintain forest structure diversity

All forest layers (from soil, leaf litter, woody debris, herbaceous plants, shrubs, subcanopy to canopy layer) provide food, cover and space for wildlife.  More structure and greater variety of forest types, ages and native plants equals more wildlife species.  Conserve patches of old growth forest.  Do not graze forest.  Appropriately place and maintain nest boxes and platforms for additional structure and diversity.

Prevent & control invasive plant & animal species

Invasives have become a huge problem, negatively impacting forest health.  The key is prevention and early detection.  Ensure all equipment such ATVs, mowers, logging equipment, etc. is thoroughly clean before it arrives at or leaves your land.  Use only local or DNR approved firewood.  Never dump unwanted bait worms in the forest.

Preserve wetlands & riparian areas

Wetlands (such as vernal or ephemeral ponds) and riparian areas (transition zone between land and water along rivers, lakeshore and wetlands) add to habitat diversity.  All types, from temporary to deep water, provide important functions.   For example, temporary wetlands are first to warm in spring, providing invertebrates for waterfowl and breeding habitat for amphibians.  Buffer wetlands and avoid draining, filling, or rutting them.  Keep disturbance of riparian areas to a minimum to prevent soil compaction and erosion.  Natural shoreline is best.  Avoid mowing to the lake edge and rip rap.  Leave trees and woody debris that fall in the lake.  They provide structure and cover for fish and wildlife.

Retain sufficient dead & live standing trees & woody debris when harvesting your forest

Remaining trees provide perches, cavities, bark-foraging sites, and representative forest patches (genetic material).  Older, large diameter (15-20 in.) trees provide den sites, especially aspen and oak.  Remaining woody debris and small brush piles provide food and cover for invertebrates, small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and fungi, and nurse logs.  Leave all standing dead trees possible.  Leaving live trees in clumps (5% of site, ¼ acre or larger) is preferable.  Retain downed logs and stumps, and at least 20% of tops and limbs (scatter).

Maintain small wildlife openings where appropriate

In landscapes where forest openings naturally occur from disturbance (such as wildfire, wind, flooding, insects or disease), if sufficient openings do not already exist (5-10 acres of openings per 100 acres forest), consider cutting trees and brush to clear 0.5 -5 acre openings with irregular edges.  This will allow sunlight to native shrubs, grasses and forbs, stimulate new growth and provide mast, cover and insects.  Several smaller openings are preferable to one large opening.  Do not create openings where enough already exist (such as hay fields, right of ways, timber harvest landings, food plots, yards) and large, contiguous, mature forest patches are desired, or wildlife and habitat of special management concern may be harmed (such as goshawks, red-shouldered hawks and deer yards).   Light maintenance methods such as mowing, hand cutting or prescribed burning outside the primary nesting season (May 15 - Aug. 1) are preferred.

Consider wildlife of special concern

Certain wildlife in your landscape may be of special management concern.  Learn what these species are and how you can provide habitat for them.  See the DNR Rare Species Guide and/or visit with your local DNR Wildlife and Nongame Wildlife staff.  Keep household pets such as cats indoors to protect wildlife, especially ground nesting birds.

Implement your plan

Actively manage your land.  Follow through on plan recommendations. Stay in touch with your local natural resource professionals.  Utilize financial and educational resources.  Feel good about your accomplishments. Enjoy your land and wildlife.

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