Forest openings for wildlife
Creating an opening in your woods to attract wildlife isn’t difficult if you build it right and maintain it.
My wife truly enjoys seeing wildlife on our property and at the old homestead. And we do quite a bit to get a variety of wildlife to visit and stay on our land; from creating brush piles to putting out nest boxes and leaving snags.
The latest thing we have considered is creating more openings and food plots in our forests. These seemed pretty straight forward, but it ended up being a bit more work than we anticipated.
Our first step was to do an inventory of the openings that already existed on our property and those on our neighbors’ properties. We quickly discovered that the old homestead in southern Wisconsin didn’t really need a new food plot or wildlife openings. Wildlife were already fulfilling much of their food needs in the corn, soybean and other fields that surrounded our woodlot.
Our forested property in northern Wisconsin was a whole other story. Our inventory revealed we had limited, low-quality openings on our property and almost none on our neighbors’ properties. Additionally, the neighboring properties are almost entirely forested with only small openings for the human types of homes. (It is easy to view properties from above using Google Maps or Google Earth)
The next step was to decide where and how many openings and/or food plots we wanted on the property. The guidelines I found called for 3-5 acres of openings for every 100 acres of forest. Also, smaller, well-scattered openings are preferable to one large opening, and it is good to place openings and/or food plots near to other amenities
We decided to improve on a couple of older openings (a log landing and an old homestead site) and put in two new food plots. The landing and homestead will work great because they are already adjacent to our trails and roads network. We put the new food plots near the creek that runs through the property.
After picking our locations, we checked them for any non-native, invasive plants. Most of the worst of these would flourish with more sunlight, so we wanted to be vigilant about getting rid of them before we opened up the stand.
Then we had the soil tested in all the sites. This helped us choose which plants to put in and if we needed to do anything like adding fertilizer or maybe lime.
For the old openings, we took out any trees that were in the middle, removed some of the more mature trees along the southern edge, and put in some shrubs that are preferred by wildlife. We chose a variety of shrubs that provided food all year, including dogwoods, highbush cranberry, and elderberry. We also decided to plant some evergreen trees (spruce and fir) along the southern edge of the openings to provide additional escape cover for the wildlife.
We did a lot of the work on these openings in the summer and fall, and when spring rolled around we had a chance to see how well everything took. The things we planted did well and we had a nice variety of annual and perennial plants growing in the middle of the opening.
Maintaining the opening will require the removal of any trees that seed in or any unwanted shrubs. Mowing the openings once a year should take care of that, and we wait to mow till at least July 4 (and August and September are even better) to avoid disturbing nesting birds.
We put up some trail cameras along the openings, and got some great shots of wildlife that hadn’t visited our property in the past. In an upcoming article, I will describe our work putting food plots into our woodland.
There is a great publication called “So, what should I plant?” that can help with deciding which trees, shrubs and vines to plant for attracting each wildlife species.