Wildlife Habitat and Forest Management

Forests provide vital habitat for a diverse range of wildlife species. As forest managers, we have an obligation to manage forests in a way that maintains biodiversity and ecosystem health. The actions we take shape the quality of wildlife habitat for generations to come.

In this guide, we will explore practical tips for sustainable forest management that benefit wildlife. Key topics include:

Leave Dead Wood and Debris

Leaving dead and decaying wood on the forest floor provides habitat for fungi, insects, and other invertebrates that form the base of the food chain. Many species of birds and mammals rely on these species for food. Salvage logging that removes dead wood can negatively impact biodiversity.

Here are some tips for leaving dead wood in managed forests:

  • When harvesting trees, leave unmerchantable wood on site instead of hauling it away. This includes dead and dying trees, tops, branches, and root masses.
  • Retain at least 4 large downed logs per acre, preferably 20 feet long and 12 inches in diameter.
  • Leave standing dead trees (snags) whenever it is safe to do so.
  • Allow wood debris to decompose naturally to provide wildlife habitat over time.

Leaving dead wood debris benefits species such as woodpeckers, brown creepers, spotted owls, pine martens, and black bears.

Retain Old Growth Habitat Features

Mature forests with old growth characteristics provide specialized habitat that cannot be replaced quickly. Retaining old growth features like large trees, multi-layered canopies, and tree cavities can maintain habitat for old growth-dependent wildlife.

Tips for retaining old growth habitat:

  • Prioritize protection of any existing old growth stands.
  • Within harvested areas, leave solitary large “legacy” trees to provide wildlife cavities, perches, and food resources.
  • Leave pockets of intact forest with multi-aged trees and canopy layers.
  • Extend the rotation age before final harvest to allow large trees and snags to develop.
  • Where safety allows, retain trees with defects like broken tops or cavities. These provide nesting sites.

Species that rely on old growth habitat include spotted owls, fisher, goshawks, and pine martens.

Manage Forest Structure

Wildlife need forests with diversity in structure and plant composition. Management strategies like variable retention harvesting can better mimic natural disturbance patterns.

Here are key considerations:

  • After harvesting, ensure a mix of openings, mature forest, and thicket-stage habitat remains.
  • Leave intact forest patches within harvested areas to provide “lifeboats” for wildlife residing in mature forest.
  • Retain forested corridors along streams to protect riparian habitat.
  • Promote vegetation diversity by allowing natural regeneration of shrubs and tree species.

Maintaining structural diversity benefits species such as woodland caribou, Canada lynx, and neotropical migrant songbirds.

Protect Wetlands and Riparian Areas

Wetlands provide vital habitat for amphibians, waterfowl, mink, and other wildlife species. Protecting water features like wetlands, ponds, lakes, and riparian areas maintains essential habitat connectivity across the landscape.

Here are some key strategies:

  • Establish buffer zones around wetlands and water bodies and avoid building roads that bisect riparian habitat.
  • Limit forest operations around riparian areas and wetlands during sensitive seasons.
  • Manage animal grazing patterns to prevent damage to wetland vegetation and water quality.
  • Retain shrubs, downed wood, and mature canopy cover adjacent to streams and wetlands.

Species that rely on riparian habitat include wood ducks, boreal toads, river otters, and willow flycatchers.

Mimic Natural Disturbance Patterns

Natural disturbances like wildfires, floods, windstorms, and insect outbreaks shape forest structure over time. Mimicking these patterns through forest management can maintain habitat dynamics that wildlife species have evolved with.

Tips for mimicking natural disturbances:

  • Where appropriate, allow natural wildfires to burn instead of suppressing fire entirely. Conduct prescribed burns when possible.
  • Retain patches of fire-killed standing and downed dead wood to provide post-fire habitat.
  • After harvesting trees, avoid extensive site preparation and planting to allow natural regeneration.
  • Ensure harvested areas have uneven aged stands and varied tree spacing to mimic patchy patterns.

Species adapted to landscapes with natural disturbances include woodpeckers, black-backed woodpeckers, and deer mice.

Prioritize Habitat Connectivity

Connected habitat allows wildlife to access resources, migrate safely, breed, and adapt as conditions change. Fragmentation from roads, development, and intensive land use can degrade connectivity.

Strategies for maintaining habitat connectivity include:

  • Identify key wildlife corridors across the landscape and conserve corridor function.
  • Use wildlife-friendly crossing structures to enable safe passage over roads and other barriers.
  • Coordinate habitat management across ownership boundaries where possible to maintain contiguous habitat.
  • Limit construction of roads and landings during sensitive seasons and locations.

Large carnivores like wolves, fishers, wolverines, and Canada lynx require extensive interconnected habitat.

Monitor Wildlife Responses

Monitoring wildlife population trends, breeding status, and habitat use provides vital data to evaluate the outcomes of forest management over time. This enables adaptive strategies as needed.

Here are tips for monitoring wildlife:

  • Work with wildlife agencies to survey indicator species and develop monitoring protocols.
  • Track species diversity, reproduction rates, survival, distribution, and population trends.
  • Document habitat condition and use, such as den sites, foraging areas, nest sites, and travel routes.
  • Assess quantitative thresholds to trigger habitat management changes when needed.

Monitoring provides key feedback to maintain sustainable habitat for species such as northern spotted owls, grizzly bears, and caribou.

Conclusion

Sustainable forest management requires balancing timber production with maintaining functioning habitat for wildlife. The proactive strategies outlined in this guide demonstrate how we can manage forests in ways that conserve biodiversity.

Key takeaways include retaining structural elements like dead wood and old growth features, mimicking natural disturbance patterns, protecting riparian habitat, and monitoring wildlife responses to habitat changes. By implementing these sustainable practices, we can maintain healthy forest ecosystems.

The actions we take today determine the fate of wildlife diversity for future generations. With care, understanding and vision, our forests can continue providing life-giving habitat for centuries to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions about managing forests to benefit wildlife:

Does managing forests for wildlife compromise timber production?

It doesn’t have to. With careful planning, it is possible to integrate timber production alongside managing habitat for wildlife conservation. Strategies like variable retention harvesting enable sustainable timber yields while still providing the habitat complexity that wildlife need.

What species are most sensitive to forest management practices?

Species most vulnerable to habitat changes from forest management are those that rely on mature, old growth forests like spotted owls, pine martens, and fisher. Large carnivores like wolves and wide-ranging species like caribou and lynx are also very sensitive to disruption of habitat connectivity.

What is the most important element for wildlife habitat?

Biodiversity is key. Wildlife need diverse forest structure and composition across the landscape to thrive. This includes variation in tree species, age classes, canopy layers, wetlands, and openings. Ensuring this diversity is maintained should be the top priority.

How can I balance timber yields while still meeting wildlife habitat objectives?

Strategies like variable retention harvesting allow for timber yields while still providing the structural complexity and diversity that wildlife need. The key is to not manage forests solely for simplified, homogeneous stands. Plan harvests carefully to leave intact habitat patches, legacy trees, and structural elements like snags and downed logs.

What wildlife should I monitor to assess habitat changes from forest management?

Key indicator species to monitor include predators and wide-ranging animals (e.g. wolves, lynx, wolverines), species dependent on old growth (e.g. spotted owls, pine martens, goshawks), and keystone species like beavers. Tracking reproductive success and survival rates of these animals provides important feedback on how management practices are impacting habitat.

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