Woodland Projects

photo collage of a deer, forest trail, prescribe burn, selective harvest

Choose a project that fits your budget, timeline, and long-term goals. Projects range from simple tree pruning to in-depth lakeshore restoration. Here are a few examples that correspond to the wildlife, recreation, income, and combination themes. Each of these projects may be tailored to meet multiple goals.

Option 1, wildlife habitat focus: Creating a wildlife opening

If you want to attract wildlife to your property, you might consider creating a wildlife opening as your first woodland project. Unlike traditional food plots, which usually consist of planted nonnative grasses or crops, wildlife openings use native vegetation and are therefore more suitable to meeting the needs of native wildlife.

Wildlife openings are small clearings in your woodland—ranging from a half-acre to five acres, but usually one acre or smaller in size—that mimic the type of openings created by natural disturbances such as fires or wind. Disturbance is nature's way of renewing a forest, and many creatures depend on the type of habitat provided by a forest disturbance. Methods for creating and maintaining your wildlife opening could include hand-cutting trees and shrubs, brush mowing, and controlled burning with the help of a professional Maintaining your opening is best done outside of the primary nesting season for birds, which is mid-May through early August. A natural resource professional can help you decide which method(s) work best and the best location for the opening.

You do not need to remove all of the trees and shrubs in your opening. It benefits wildlife to leave—or plant, if absent—nut-and fruit-bearing species, a few snags, fallen logs, and brush piles for shelter. The opening should be about three times as long as it is wide, irregular in shape, and placed on a south- or southeast-facing slope to take advantage of the sun.

When choosing the location of your wildlife opening, it may not be necessary to clear new areas if you have existing openings that can be improved by planting or regenerating native species. Pre-existing openings may include yards, old pastures, edges between forest and agricultural fields, and open areas near lakeshore. You might also consider improving an existing food plot. Using pre-existing openings can prevent unnecessary fragmentation of your woods.

Option 2, recreation focus: Controlling invasive plants

Nonnative species can be a big problem for forests when they displace native species. Invasive plants can crowd the understory of your woods or proliferate along your trails, making recreational access difficult. The first and least costly step you can take to combat any invasive species—plant, insect, or disease—is to prevent them. Here are some steps you can take.

  • Identify invasive species and recognize clues about their presence.
  • Avoid spreading seeds, insects, and microbes (found in wood or soil) to new areas by cleaning boots, tires, pets, and equipment between uses.
  • Minimize disturbance to native vegetation where possible, and maintain healthy communities of native species.
  • Monitor high-risk areas such as roads, trails, and disturbed ground.
  • Detect new outbreaks of invasive species early and eradicate them quickly.

If you have confirmed that there are invasive plants in your woods, taking steps to control these pests makes for a good first woodland management project.

Catching an infestation early can be critical to successful eradication. The best time to tackle removing an invasive plant is when it's present, but not yet well-established in your woods. Once an invasive plant becomes well-established,eradication is more difficult, but you can still manage the problem and give your native plants a chance to compete with the invader.

Woody invasive plants in your region include common buckthorn, several species of Eurasian bush honeysuckle, and weedy invaders such as leafy spurge, common tansy, several species of nonnative thistle, and spotted knapweed. Watch for garlic mustard, which is a prolific understory plant with clusters of small four-petaled white flowers and a garlicky scent to its leaves. While it is present, it's not yet prevalent in your region. Garlic mustard has already invaded other parts of Minnesota and the United States. If you spot garlic mustard, act quickly to remove it. If it becomes established in your woods, it will become highly problematic.

A variety of methods are used to control invasive plants.

  • Hand-pulling: Small seedlings can be pulled up by hand in the spring when the soil is moist, taking care to remove the entire root so the plant does not resprout.
  • Herbicide: The stems of large woody plants can be cut at the base and treated with the appropriate herbicide to prevent resprouting. As an alternative to cutting, herbicide can be sprayed on the bark around the lower portion of the plant's stem. You can also spray the leaves of invasive woody plants, preferably after native plants have lost their leaves and gone dormant. Infestations of weedy plants may be controlled with spot herbicide treatments. As always, be sure you're treating the correct plant and take care to protect native plants. Before applying any herbicides, it is best to talk to your forester to make sure you select the most effective treatment and the best product for your site. Finally, wear protective clothing and follow instructions on the product label when applying herbicides, as not all products are appropriate for all situations.
  • Fire: Prescribed burning can be effective at killing seedlings and resprouted plants. Burns need to be repeated every few years to keep new invasions from taking hold. Just as with the use of herbicides, it is best to talk to a professional before tackling a prescribed burn. You will also need to get a burning permit.
  • Mowing or grazing: Some invasive plants can be deterred by repeatedly mowing the plants before they go to seed. Alternatively, livestock such as cows, sheep, or goats can be used to graze heavily infested areas of certain invasive species.
  • Insects: In a few cases, scientists have identified insects that selectively attack particular invasive plants. Biological controls, such as some insects, can target invasive species while sparing native species. For example, two types of weevil are used to control spotted knapweed, an aggressive invader of open or disturbed areas. The weevils attack either the seedhead or the roots of the knapweed, weakening or killing those plants.

Remember that seeds in the soil can germinate for several years after you remove mature plants. You must be persistent in removing new plants until the seedbed is exhausted or the infestation will return. After you remove an invasive species, you may need to plant native species to fill the void, otherwise new invaders may quickly return to the disturbed area. Native trees and shrubs that could replace buckthorn and honeysuckle include high-bush cranberry, nannyberry, pagoda dogwood, American hazelnut, common elderberry, and native bush honeysuckle. Native forbs in your region are many, and include bloodroot, wild ginger, Canada tick trefoil, black-eyed Susan, and whorled milkweed.

Unfortunately, new invasive plants are constantly popping up in areas where they have not been spotted before, and the most troublesome invaders in your region may have changed since the time of this writing. Keep an eye on the DNR's terrestrial invasive website for up to date information.

More information

Native plants - information on native plants

Minnesota State Forest Nursery - information on ordering and planting bare-root tree and shrub seedlings

Option 3, income focus: Harvesting firewood

If you enjoy keeping the hearth crackling throughout the long Minnesota winter, a woodland stand improvement harvest will give you abundant firewood from your own property.

Harvesting firewood on your property saves money. To maintain a forest that will stay healthy, produce income, and look good, choose your firewood trees strategically. Mark trees that are:

  • On the small side—Trees that measure 6 to 8 inches in diameter at 4 feet from the ground (or 19 to 25 inches in circumference) are good choices for firewood harvests.
  • Dying or dead—Choose trees that have been infested by disease or insects, as they will likely not survive to be part of your future forest. You may also choose to harvest dead trees, but remember that you may wish to leave some of these for wildlife habitat.
  • Low timber quality—Choose trees that are crooked, damaged, or have trunks that fork close to the ground. Choose species that are less desired by timber markets. These trees will not fetch high prices if you choose to harvest your future forest.
  • Crowded high-quality trees—If the trees in your woodland are too crowded, they compete for resources. Thinning some of the trees that surround your best quality trees allows those remaining trees to thrive and grow more quickly. To identify overcrowded trees, look up at the crowns (the tops) of the trees. Make sure your best trees have plenty of room for their crowns to grow.

Logs harvested from dead or dying trees may contain insects or fungi that can harm remaining trees and some insects are attracted to recently harvested logs from healthy trees. To prevent these organisms from spreading, it is best to harvest and process your firewood in cold weather. Split, stack, and cure the wood on site for two years before moving it to another area. If you choose to harvest trees yourself, having a project plan prepared by a professional forester can help you identify where, how many, and which species of trees to harvest. Remember moving your harvested logs from one site to another can spread unseen insects and diseases. It's always best to use it where you cut it.

Option 4, wildlife habitat focus: Harvest for habitat

"Harvest for Habitat" means thoughtfully and purposely harvesting trees in your woodlands to improve wildlife habitat.

A well-planned tree harvest can improve the food and cover for specific wildlife by creating new growth and diversifying the ages, heights, and species of trees in your woodlands. Carefully planning which trees to harvest and retain can reap long-term habitat benefits beyond your own woodland.

How you harvest trees depends on your landscape, woodland type, its current state, nearby wildlife, the wildlife you want to benefit, and which habitat needs you can influence. For example, you may want to selectively harvest trees to release and encourage oak to increase acorn production for wild turkeys or deer. Or you may want a clear-cut/regeneration harvest to allow more sunlight to reach the forest floor and encourage young trees, shrubs and forbs to flourish. For example when aspen is harvested correctly, it produces dense, vigorous regrowth that benefits certain wildlife such as ruffed grouse while sustaining the aspen.

It's a good idea to first contact a professional forester to learn if a "Harvest for Habitat" is right for your woodland.

Take it a step further and have a plan. A Woodland Stewardship Plan is a long-term management plan for your entire woodland that will help you identify and achieve your goals, which may include improving habitat, getting fair market value for your trees, or other goals. A professional forester, who is approved by the DNR to write plans, will listen to your goals, walk your woods, and prepare a plan with you. When the plan is completed and registered with the DNR, you may be eligible for property tax relief or incentive payments. To learn more or locate an approved stewardship plan preparer, visit U of M Extension's My Minnesota Woods

If you simply want a "Harvest for Habitat" and don't require a long-term plan, you can also contact a professional forester from the Minnesota Association of Consulting Foresters

Where can I get more information?

Whom do I contact for more help?

Option 5, combination focus: Lakeshore restoration

Forests play a critical role in maintaining the health and beauty of Minnesota's many lakes. If you own lakeshore property and are interested in a "combination approach" to your woodland management strategy, a lakeshore restoration project may be a good fit. Maintaining healthy lakeshore provides habitat for birds, fish, and other wildlife. It also improves recreational opportunities by maintaining good water quality and can potentially increase the value of your land by improving visual quality.

  • There are several steps you might take to improve the quality of your shoreline.
  • Soil bank stabilization—If the shore is eroded or sensitive to erosion, you need to stabilize the soil to keep it from muddying the water. Planting native trees, other woody vegetation, or deep-rooted perennial forbs and grasses is one way to secure the bank. Tips on selecting native plants in your county »
  • Invasive plant control—Aggressive invasive species, such as reed canary grass and purple loosestrife, plague the shores of lakes and other water bodies in your area. Controlling invasive plants helps native plants compete for space.
  • Creation of wildlife habitat structures.—If the area has few snags and downed logs, you might consider installing some habitat structures for wildlife such as tree boxes for wood ducks or floating nest platforms for loons and other waterfowl.

Specific recommendations for a lakeshore restoration project vary depending on the condition of your shore, the local ecology, your goals, and regulations governing your shoreline. The DNR's online Restore Your Shore tool is an excellent resource to assess the current condition of your lakeshore and find tips to increase ecosystem health along your water's edge. For grant funding and general planning assistance, check with your local county soil and water conservation district, watershed district, lake association, or with a DNR fisheries habitat specialist for more information.

Native Plant Community Spotlight: Lakeshore »

Woods workbook - guides you through setting goals for your woods and how to get them done.

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