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Wood harvest, mowing, and mulching for habitat management

MassWildlife Habitat Programs use a variety of tools to create, restore, and maintain a variety of habitats.

Several tools are used to create, restore, and maintain a variety of habitat types (such as grassland, shrubland, and younger forests) on public lands to meet habitat goals. These include wood product harvest, mowing and mulching, invasive plant management, and prescribed fire.

Wood Product Harvest

Montague plains before and after tree clearing

Forestry practices such as harvesting timber, firewood, and other wood products help create areas of open, young forest habitat on wildlife lands. Appropriate locations for young forest habitat work are identified through a landscape-level analysis of soil types, topography, and land use history. Harvesting renewable wood products helps support local economies and reduces dependence on imported wood products. These young forest habitats are typically allowed to grow undisturbed for 50-100 years before any subsequent management occurs. As the dense cover and food resources associated with young forest patches begins to fade after 20-30 years of regrowth, new patches of younger forest are established elsewhere so that a shifting mosaic of this valuable habitat type is consistently available over time.

Wood products are an important part of daily life. They include items such as home infrastructure, 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 a 24’ long portion of a 14” diameter tree. Overall, Massachusetts residents annually use wood products from more than 50,000 harvested acres of forestland. Harvesting locally gives consumers an opportunity to observe and learn about the practices used to harvest these products, as well as the response of our forest lands to these management practices over time.

MassWildlife routinely conducts wood products harvesting to benefit wildlife habitat. However, we rarely remove all trees from a given acre of land. Individual trees or groups of trees are often retained for their structural and habitat values. Trees may be retained for food production value (for example, full-crowned oaks or cherries that provide abundant mast for wildlife), for protective value (for example, mature hemlocks that provide important winter cover for wildlife), for aesthetic value (for example, an old sugar maple that provides bright orange foliage in autumn), or a combination of these. 

Mowing and Mulching

Montague plains before and after mulching

One cost-effective way to manage valuable shrubland habitat is to mow or mulch trees as they invade abandoned agricultural fields. Brush-hogs can be pulled behind a tractor to mow encroaching trees up to about 1” in diameter. Tracked “Bobcat” or “ASV” machines with a mulching head can mulch encroaching trees 2-3” in diameter, and excavator-mounted drum mowers such as a “Brontosaurus” can be used to mulch trees 4-8” in diameter.

Not all trees and shrubs are mowed. Some provide valuable food and cover for wildlife, including dogwoods, viburnums, serviceberry, cherries, hickories, butternut, and various oaks. Invasive exotic plants are especially targeted.

Contact for Wood harvest, mowing, and mulching for habitat management

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