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Six Tips to Better Forest Habitat for Fish & Wildlife

Six Tips to Better Forest Habitat for Fish & Wildlife

Just as croplands can produce crops and yield habitat for wildlife, forestlands can be managed to produce wood products and at the same time benefit wildlife.

Managing a forest with wildlife in mind is like shooting at a moving target. As the trees and other plants in a forest grow and change, the structure, size, and species of trees and other plants change. The shift in habitat also means there will be a shift in wildlife species that live in the forest over time.

For example, the seeds and fruits of shrubs, grasses, and forbs that grow after a harvest or other major disturbance are just what some songbirds and small mammals want. On the other hand, woodpeckers, wood ducks, bats, and other cavity nesters want the dead snags and den trees of a mature forest.

For the greatest diversity in wildlife, you want variety in the size, age, and structure of the forest. That can be achieved with selective harvesting of single or small groups of trees to always leave a canopy or by clearcutting small areas of a forest (15 acres or less) at different times, resulting in several successional stages of even-aged stands of trees within the forest. The flush of plant growth in clearcut areas lasts for several years.

Techniques to improve fish and wildlife habitat on forestland include:

  1. Regenerate new growth in open spaces. This may be done by prescribed burning, using herbicides, or planting seedlings.
  2. Thin stands and remove weak trees.
  3. Plan carefully to carry out a prescribed burn. Studies show most wildlife escape, and the new plant growth afterwards attracts wild turkeys, ruffed grouse, and more. Be sure to develop a plan with a qualified specialist and make sure you address all safety issues.
  4. Maintain forested riparian zones along streams to create stream shading and allow wood to fall into streams. The leaves, limbs, fruit, and insects that fall from streamside forests into the stream also build the food supply for fish.
  5. Leave snags and den trees.
  6. Follow a plan. A variety of federal, state, and private organizations give both technical and financial help in managing forests for profit and wildlife.

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....
While national forests cover only 19 percent of forested land in the United States, non-industrial private landowners own 59 percent of the forested land. Actions of private landowners are critically important to birds, bears, ducks, and other wildlife that depend on forestland habitat.


  • Favored Food and Cover: A guide to basic habitat needs of 15 popular wildlife species in the Midwest. Available from NRCS Distribution Center.
  • Forest Ecosystem Stewardship Montana State University Extension Publications
  • Riparian Forest Stewardship Montana State University Extension Publications

If you encounter any problems with the file provided on this page, please contact Technical Resources at 406-587-6822.

The following documents require Adobe Reader.

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