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Wood harvest, mowing, and mulching for habitat management

Learn about the tools used by MassWildlife's Habitat Programs to create, restore, and maintain a variety of habitat types.

Several tools are used to create, restore, and maintain a variety of open habitat types including grassland, shrubland, and young forests on public Wildlife Lands across Massachusetts to meet habitat goals. Tools 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 of timber, firewood, and other wood products are used to create areas of open young forest habitat on wildlife lands across the Commonwealth. Appropriate locations for young forest habitat work are identified through a landscape-level GIS analysis of soil types, topography, and land use history. Following the harvest of renewable wood products, which helps support local economies and reduces Massachusetts’ 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, aditinal patches of young forest are established elsewhere on the landscape so that a shifting mosaic of this valuable habitat type is consistently available over time.

Wood 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 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 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.

Even though MassWildlife routinely conducts wood products harvesting to benefit wildlife habitat, 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 their food production value (e.g., full-crowned oaks or cherries that provide abundant mast for wildlife), for their protective value (e.g., mature hemlocks that provide important winter cover for wildlife), for their aesthetic value (e.g., an old sugar maple that provides bright orange foliage in autumn), or any combination thereof.

Mowing and Mulching

Montague plains before and after mulching

One of the most cost-effective ways the Habitat Program maintains valuable shrubland habitat is to mow or mulch trees as they invade abandoned agricultural fields. Brush-hogs can be pulled behind a farm tractor to mow small encroaching trees up to about 1” in diameter. Tracked “Bobcat” or “ASV” machines with a fecon type mulching head can be used to 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 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.