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Forest Edge Helps Wildlife Gradually

Forest Edge Helps Wildlife Gradually

Edge, the transition zone between two different types of vegetation, can be key to good wildlife habitat on a farm or ranch.

How good it can be depends on the diversity and quality of the plants that offer food and cover. Just as important, those plants should create a gradual transition from the tall forest or shelterbelt trees to the relatively short field next to it.

Most transitions are abrupt, but the direct change from low ground cover in a field to tall trees doesn’t help wildlife.

What many species like is a wider, more gradual border area along forests, riparian areas, and shelterbelts. A minimum of 30 feet, but preferably wider zone of grasses, weeds, shrubs, vines, and small trees offer the berries, seeds, browse, and insects helpful to wildlife.

The ring-necked pheasant is among the more popular species that relies heavily on edge habitat between shelterbelts and cropland.

Creating a forest edge. The habitat edge can be improved by planting shrubs or small trees. Another option is to encourage the area to revert naturally to native plants. Stop grazing, mowing or cropping the area and the natural process will probably work in short order. A light discing will help weeds and other native species to come along more quickly.

If the trees in the forest are close to one another, the edge can be improved by thinning the tree stand. Consider a commercial timber sale or cutting trees for firewood. Thinning the stand near the edge allows sunlight to reach the forest understory. The sunlight then promotes more growth of plants that offer food and cover for wildlife.

Creating forest openings. An option or addition to creating edge on the outside of large tracts of forests is to create small openings within the forest. Ungrazed clearings in a forest diversify the habitat and offer woodland birds such as wild turkeys the insects, annual weeds, grasses, and seedlings that young turkeys need.

With selective thinning, good fruit producing trees, den trees, and snags can be left for more food and cover for wildlife. It’s a good idea to have five to ten acres of small clearings for every 100 acres of forest, with clearings ranging from one to three acres.

For more information about conservation practices that can improve wildlife habitat on your land, stop at the local NRCS office.

Wildlife Ways

Did you know....
The black-capped chickadee, which prefers edge habitat, stores or caches seeds and insects in bark, dead leaves, and knotholes. Each bit of food is stored in a separate place and remembered as long as a month before the meal. 


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Specification 645: Upland Wildlife Habitat Management (PDF; 191 KB)