The Habitat Program employs a number of tools to create, restore, and maintain a variety of open habitat types on public Wildlife Lands across Massachusetts to meet habitat goals Link to the image file..
Forestry practices including timber harvest are used to create areas of open habitat on wildlife lands across the Commonwealth. For the most part, MassWildlife’s Habitat Program works to establish young forest habitat on fully forested sites where renewable wood products can be harvested while creating valuable habitat for wildlife. Harvesting renewable wood products helps support local economies and reduces Massachusetts’ dependence on imported wood products.

Timber harvest can be used in several ways to create open habitat and benefit wildlife. For example, white pines growing in an old field can be cut to encourage regeneration of mixed hardwoods, like oaks, which produce mast (acorns) for many animals; and to provide more sunlight to native shrubs (like highbush blueberry) in the understory. Management of grassland and shrubland sites often involves a timber harvest component to clear trees that are taking over these areas. Sometimes, adjacent trees are cleared to expand existing grasslands and shrublands.

young forest animals
A variety of animals require young forests and open habitats.The Chestnut-sided Warbler (left) and Eastern Towhee (right) require forest edges and shrub cover. The dense vegetation of shrublands and regenerating forests is also prime habitat for New England Cottontails.

More on Forestry

Modern forestry includes the practice by which trees are sustainably grown, tended, and harvested, but can also involve the conservation of entire plant communities (herbaceous plants, shrubs, and trees). Foresters can manipulate existing woodlands (e.g., removal of individual trees with low habitat or economic value to focus future growth on a desirable subset of existing trees) or regenerate woodlands (e.g., harvesting groups or entire areas of trees for renewable wood products in order to establish a open habitats and new forests for the future). Forestry can help create or maintain wildlife habitat and can improve recreational opportunities, aesthetic values. Wood products from forestry operations can be utilized by our local communities and can provide local jobs.

An individual tree may be favored for its economic value (e.g., veneer sawlogs), it’s habitat value (e.g., full-crowned oaks that provide abundant acorn mast for wildlife, or mature hemlocks that provide important winter cover for wildlife), its aesthetic value (e.g., an old sugar maple that provides bright orange foliage in autumn), or any combination thereof.

Read more about sustainable forestry at Cornell Forestry Extension Program.

Forest products are an important part of our everyday life and include items such as the infrastructure of homes, fuel for heating, and paper products. Based on 2012 census data, Massachusetts has more than 6.5 million residents. On average one person uses more than 100 board feet of wood per year, which is equivalent to one tree about the size of the white pine pictured to the left. Harvesting forest products locally gives the consumer the opportunity to observe and learn about the practices used to harvest these products and the opportunity to observe the response of our forest lands to these management activities over time.

One of the most cost-effective ways the Habitat Program establishes and maintains valuable shrubland habitat is to remove trees as they invade abandoned agricultural fields. This often involves mowing and mulching. Invading small trees are removed using commercial, industrial mowers such as a “Brontosaurus” (a tracked excavator with a spinning drum mulching head), and/or smaller tracked “Bobcat” or “ASV” machines with a fecon type mulching head.

Not all trees and shrubs are mowed within a project area. Individual trees and shrubs that provide valuable food and cover for wildlife including dogwoods, viburnums, serviceberry, cherries, hickories, butternut, and various oaks are purposely retained. On the other hand, invasive exotic plants are specifically targeted for control.

Shrubs or trees like serviceberry pictured here (left) are retained for food and cover for wildlife. A "brontosaurus" (right) mulches a 6 inch red maple in an abandoned blueberry field.

Invasive exotic plants are those that have been purposefully or unintentionally introduced into an area where they are not native. There are approximately 900 introduced plant species in Massachusetts. Most are benign and enjoyed as landscape and garden plants. Others however, spread rapidly, become difficult to control or eradicate, and degrade our natural plant communities by outcompeting native species for resources. In fact, invasive exotics have been implicated in contributing to the decline of 42% of those species listed as threatened or endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Wildlife Habitat Program works to control invasive exotic plants on all project sites. In most cases, herbicides are used since they provide the most effective means of controlling invasive plants. Other, non-chemical techniques like hand pulling seedlings work in some instances. However, when root systems become well developed, techniques like pulling become less effective and can even contribute to a more severe invasion. Mature root systems are difficult to pull out entirely. If root segments are left in the soil, they will often re-sprout. Additionally, the soil disturbance created after pulling out a plant creates a perfect bed for seeds of invasive exotic plants to germinate.
Herbicide applications are done by individuals (either contractors or MassWildlife staff) who are licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resource’s Pesticide Bureau. All applicable federal, state, and local regulations are followed during applications, including the Wetlands Protection Act.

Invasive Plant Pictures
Licensed applicators selectively treat individual exotic plants to allow native plant communities to thrive. Examples of invasive plants include Oriental Bittersweet (left) and Mile-a-minute vine (right); both plants can quickly overwhelm and kill native vegetation.

Historically, fire played a fundamental role in shaping the Massachusetts landscape. Decades of total fire exclusion of all natural wildfires resulted in the decline of numerous species and degradation of entire ecosystems. In Massachusetts, some vegetation and habitats have evolved with fire and are best maintained with periodic burning, including some areas that are home to state- and federally-listed rare, endangered, or threatened species.
Prescribed fire is used to restore and maintain native grasslands, heath lands, pitch pine/scrub oak barrens, and pine woodlands.

The primary concerns for all prescribed burns are persona l and site safety. Planning is critical for every burn. Fire behavior and weather are monitored throughout the burn, and if the prescription parameters are exceeded the fire is “shut down”. Permits are required from the town fire chief and the air quality staff at DEP’s regional offices. The local fire chief can of course stop the fire at any time. There is a public meeting in most areas before prescribed burning is introduced. Abutting landowners are notified of fire dates, reasons, and expectations
Approximately 30% of the MESA-listed plant and animal species in Massachusetts benefit from the conditions created and maintained by fire.

prescribed Fire Pictures
Each year, MassWildlife partners with public and private conservation groups to conduct prescribed burns at locations around the state. These burns attempt to restore natural conditions to historically fire-adapted areas.


Natural Communities that benefit from prescribed burning:

Sandplain Grassland  pdf format of Sandplain Grassland
, Sandplain Heathland  pdf format of Sandplain Heathland
, Scrub Oak Shrubland pdf format of Scrub Oak Shrubland
, Pitch pine-scrub oak pdf format of Pitch Pine - Scrub Oak Community
, Ridgetop pitch pine-scrub oak pdf format of Ridgetop Pitch Pine - Scrub Oak Community
, Calcareous fen pdf format of Calcareous Basin Fen
, Oak woodland

To learn more about how MassWildlife uses prescribed fire as a tool for habitat management, read our .