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Bill Marchel: Forest stand improvement for wildlife

Just because you don't own heavy duty logging equipment, or can't afford to hire a logger, doesn't mean you can't micro manage your forest with a simple Forest Stand Management project.

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This is a “before” image taken last winter. Note there is virtually no underbrush to provide food and cover for wildlife. The overhead canopy needed to be removed to allow sunlight to reach the ground to encourage re-growth. Photo by Bill Marchel

Winter is a great time to work on land management projects. This winter has been especially nice because of minimal snow cover and relatively warm temperatures, at least until this current cold spell.

So, with chain saw in hand I’ve headed to the woods at every opportunity. I’m working on a Forest Stand Management project on 70 acres of land I own south of town.

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Here is the “after” image taken from the same location following just one summer of growth. Note how much food and cover is available to wildlife. Photo by Bill Marchel

Each winter I engage in a Forest Stand Management project. My projects are small, usually less than an acre. I use simple tools -- a chainsaw and a hand-held brush cutter.


I'm continually amazed at how a Forest Stand Management project as small as 1/2 acre, can, in a few years, draw wildlife that otherwise would not have found that piece of my land to their liking.

I start by analyzing a small section of property during winter when the trees are void of leaves. That allows me a better view of which species of trees I'll cut, and which I'll leave.

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Mainly, the goal of my Forest Stand Management project's has been to open up the forest canopy to allow more sunlight to reach the ground. If I have an unobstructed view at eye level where the understory is so open I can see for roughly 50 yards, I know it's time to "rejuvenate" the forest.

During my Forest Stand Management project's I don't remove all the vegetation as one would if performing a clear-cut. Instead, I thin the area, cutting less-desirable trees and shrubs, but always leaving a few various species. By opening up the overhead canopy I encourage new growth of trees, shrubs and forbs at ground level.

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As part of a Forest Stand Improvement (FSI) project, Marchel uses a chainsaw to girdled a bur oak prior to a herbicide application.

In a few years, my Forest Stand Management project’s will be so thick with new plants, visibility will be reduced to roughly 15 yards, not the 50 yards prior to my work. The thick re-growth not only provides food but also protective cover for wildlife like deer, ruffed grouse, woodcock and a variety of songbirds.

See the accompanying photos and you might be amazed at what just one summer of growth will produce.


During my Forest Stand Management project efforts, I don't just randomly destroy trees and shrubs. I'm biased toward the plant species that provide food for wildlife in the form of nuts, fruit and buds. Therefore, I don't cut any healthy oak trees unless they are crowding each other. Deer, bears, turkeys, squirrels, even wood ducks feed on the acorns.

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I also leave most birch trees and hazel shrubs because their catkins are fed upon during winter by ruffed grouse and a variety of finches. Fruit bearing shrubs like dogwood, chokecherry, nannyberry, serviceberry, and high-bush cranberry are also allowed to prosper.

This winter I’ve also employed a technique called girdle-and-squirt to kill large trees. The girdle-and-squirt method of killing trees is pretty simple. Using a chainsaw, I will girdle a tree around its entire diameter to a depth of about 1.5 inches. I’ll then spray a 50-50 mix of glyphosate herbicide and water into the cut. I also add a red dye to the mix so I can easily monitor where I have sprayed. This will terminate the tree.

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After a bur oak is girdled, Marchel sprays a herbicide mix into the cut to kill the tree.

I have a stand of big bur oaks on my land. Some of the trees have crowded each other, and are competing for sunlight and nutrients. The oaks are large, and can be dangerous to fell. Also, some of the trees are sure to get hung on surrounding trees, and that can really be a hazard, now and in the future. The girdle-and-squirt kills the tree while eliminating the danger of felling it. Dead trees are attractive to woodpeckers and cavity-nesting birds like owls, wood ducks, bluebirds and others.

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It’s difficult to think that killing an oak can actually improve acorn production in a stand. But it’s true. One oak with a large, spreading crown and minimal completion will, acorn-wise, almost always outproduce two or more crowded oaks.

Just because you don't own heavy duty logging equipment, or can't afford to hire a logger, doesn't mean you can't micro manage your forest with a simple Forest Stand Management project.


The results will amaze you.

BILL MARCHEL is a wildlife and outdoors photographer and writer whose work appears in many regional and national publications as well as the Brainerd Dispatch. He may be reached at bill@billmarchel.com. You also can visit his website at BillMARCHEL.com.

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