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Oak Trees
P.J. Perea/NWTF

Timber Stand Improvement

When it comes to trees, sometimes quality over quanity is the way to go.

When it comes to managing a forest for wildlife, there are times when it is better to have fewer quality trees than a larger quantity of not-so-great trees.

Just think of how quickly weeds can take over a garden. It is much the same in a forest. Vegetation aggressively occupies any available growing space, so the only way to alter the forest, or control its composition, is by killing undesirable trees and vegetation.

As paradoxical as it may seem, the primary way to improve forested wildlife habitat is to carefully destroy certain parts of it. This “weeding” process as applied to mature stands of trees is known as Timber Stand Improvement. Here’s how you can apply TSI to your hunting ground to maximize its potential for wildlife.

Hunt Club TSI

Some of the best hunting spots house their fair share of mature oak trees or mast trees that are great food sources for wildlife. You can further enhance the quality of these beneficial trees by using TSI to reduce the amount of woody underbrush. Less desirable species, such as sweetgum, elm, cherry and cedar, compete with the mast trees for water and nurtrients. So less competition means more resources, and better, more dependable mast production.

In small areas (an acre or less), remove smaller trees and shrubs using bush axes, loppers, chain saws and a lot of elbow grease. Use a hand or backpack sprayer to apply herbicide to the cut stumps to limit resprouts, which can be a problem with hardwoods.

TSI could mean money in your pocket

With the advent of using woody biomass to generate electricity and produce ethanol, TSI could translate into profit (or at least help offset the cost of hiring a commercial timber operation). Think your tract may have some marketable timber? Contact an NWTF biologist for help in assessing your land. Simply click on "In Your State", then on "Field Staff."

Hack Job

To cover larger areas by hand, use techniques such as girdling and hack-and-squirt to get rid of undesirable species. Girdling — severing the bark and cambium entirely around the trunk — is much easier and faster on large trees than completely removing them. Hacking the tree with an axe and squirting it with herbicide is even quicker.

If you have a lot of ground to cover, use mechanical clearing methods, such as bush hogging, on smaller saplings and bushes, while heavy-duty mulchers are more effective on larger trees and brush.

TSI vs. Invaders

TSI also works where invasive trees have choked out open wildlife habitat. NWTF Regional Biologist John Burk has partnered with the US Forest Service and Cedar Creek Grazing Association to improve wildlife habitat on the Cedar Creek District of the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri. The open grassy habitat is good grazing for cattle but is also good open habitat for bird species, such as wild turkey and quail.

The project restored open area habitat by removing invasive Eastern red cedar. They mechanically removed the cedar with a cutting head mounted on a skid-steer machine.

There are times when increasing the quality of beneficial trees means a selective removal of less desirable species. It’s quality over quantity when it comes to improving wildlife habitat on your hunting grounds. Try TSI on one of your favorite spots and see the benefits of better mast, better browse and more game. — Gary Burger