Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Managing Your Woodlot for Wildlife
This week at the Nature Quest Stewardship Series workshop Jan McDonnell, biologist at the Ministry of Natural Resources, spoke to the group about considering wildlife when managing your woodlot. Whether you have several acres or a few trees in your yard, there are some things to think about so that we keep habitat and food for mammals, birds, amphibians, and insects. Mike Walsh then guided us on a walk at the Bracebridge Resource Management Centre where we got to see some examples of what we talked about with Jan. It was a fantastic afternoon!
Oak, beech, cherry, basswood, hickory, butternut and walnut trees all produce fruit that animals feed on. Acorns are some of the highest in nutritional value and are eaten by many animals. Trees that produce fruit also tend to be genetically superior so it's good to keep them on your property to provide the seed for new trees. In Muskoka, black bears eat beech nuts to gain weight for winter. Bears will climb beech trees to eat the nuts. It's easy to tell if a bear has been climbing a beech tree because the bear leaves claw marks on the smooth bark like in the picture below. Bears won't climb just any beech tree though- they actually don't feel safe up there. Somehow they know which have the best nuts and go for those ones.
Snags are dead trees that are still standing. They provide nesting, food, hunting and resting places for many wildlife species. They are often full of cavities (see last week's post) created by pileated woodpeckers. While these woodpeckers create and use these cavities, they leave after using it once to create another. Other animals like wood ducks, chickadees, tree swallows, and owls then use the cavities. Often snags have other holes from where the canopy of the tree has fallen to the forest floor.
Downed Woody Debris
Speaking of the forest floor, the area surrounding snags often has fallen branches. This material is called downed woody debris and it also has considerations for habitat and overall forest health. When this wood rots, it provides nutrients that help replenish the soils of the forest and help regeneration. Resist the urge to "tidy up" the forest by removing this valuable part of the ecosystem. Wildlife also keys in on these fallen logs. Winter wrens, mice, chipmunks and other small mammals find little nooks to hide in. The invertebrate life on a fallen log is truly amazing- centipedes, mites, and ants scurrying about, beetle larvae gradually chomping the tough wood and microscopic organisms taking the wood down to its basic components. Fungi and mosses thrive here too! Not only is this valuable habitat, it is a food source for larger animals.
Woodland pools (also known as vernal pools) are seasonally wet areas in the forest. They are usually low-lying and shaded under the canopy. Some stay wet year round and others dry up around mid-summer. They are often filled by the spring run-off. Woodland pools are fragile ecosystems that provide breeding ground for many amphibians as they begin their lives. Since they are void of fish, they are safe places for these species. For example, in Muskoka, the spring peepers we hear as one of the first signs of spring beginning their lives in woodland pools. Want to learn more? Go to the Ontario Vernal Pool Association.
As landowners, it is our job to works towards a better understanding of the different species that use our property. Looking to the trees in our yards and woodlots can provide lots of hints! It's easy to maintain habitat for wildlife, doesn't usually cost any money, and enhances the health of the forest and overall ecosystem.
What kinds of habitat are in your woodlot??